(Reuters) - The Cleveland police officers union will not hold the U.S. flag at the first Browns game of the new National Football League season after some of the team's players recently knelt in protest during the national anthem, the union president said.
Steve Loomis, the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association president, said he was offended by the Browns players' symbolic act and so his members would not take part in the Sept. 10 season-opening ceremony.
"As a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and the United States Navy, and a 24-year veteran of the Cleveland Police Department, I am not going to participate or work with management that allows their players to disrespect the flag and the national anthem," Loomis told WKYC news channel on Saturday.
The sight of NFL players kneeling during the "Star-Spangled Banner" has become increasingly common since Colin Kaepernick adopted the gesture last season as a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
Kaepernick said he was doing so to protest police brutality, particularly against unarmed black people. Kaepernick opted out of his contract in March and has not been signed by another team.
At least eight Browns players knelt during the anthem ahead of a pre-season game on Aug. 21 against the New York Giants, WKYC reported. The protest came a few days after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent, with a man fatally killing an anti-racism counter-protester with his car.
Loomis said the Browns management had told him it was "disappointed" the union would not join in the flag ceremony alongside other military and law enforcement officers ahead of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
The Browns' management has not commented on the union's decision, choosing instead to re-release an earlier statement to media outlets that was first published after the protest at the Aug. 21 game.
"As an organization, we have a profound respect for our country's National Anthem, flag and the servicemen and servicewomen in the United States and abroad," the Browns' statement said.
"We feel it's important for our team to join in this great tradition and special moment of recognition, at the same time we also respect the great liberties afforded by our country, including the freedom of personal expression."
Loomis did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)