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Cleveland unions representing officers, paramedics refuse to hold flag at Browns game

Cleveland Browns players kneel in a circle in protest during the national anthem prior to a preseason game against the New York Giants on August 21, 2017 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

CLEVELAND — Members of unions representing Cleveland police officers and paramedics have said they won’t hold a large U.S. flag during pregame ceremonies prior to next Sunday’s Cleveland Browns season opener after a group of Browns players knelt during the national anthem before a preseason game last month.

Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, cited his service in the U.S. Navy when he told WKYC-TV he was astounded that Browns management knew of the protests but allowed it to occur.

“I am not going to participate or work with management that allows their players to disrespect the flag and the national anthem,” Loomis said.

Nearly a dozen Browns players knelt in a circle and prayed in silent protest during the anthem before a preseason home game Aug. 21 against the New York Giants. A smaller group of players placed hands on the shoulders of their kneeling teammates.

A team spokesman issued a statement at halftime that said the organization has a “profound respect” for the national anthem, the U.S. flag and those who serve in the military.

“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,” the statement said.

Dan Nemeth, president of the Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees Local 1975, said he had a similar reaction to Loomis’. He told Cleveland.com he served in the U.S. Marine Corps and finds it “hypocritical” for Browns management to say they support the military while allowing players to kneel during the anthem.

“When I was growing up, we were taught to stand every morning, put our hands over our hearts and say the Pledge of Allegiance,” Nemeth said. “And when we did that, we typically had someone holding the flag in front of the class. For them to disrespect the flag by taking a knee did not sit well with me.”

On Sunday evening, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin D. Williams released the following statement about the decision to FOX8:

Recent statements made by the President of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association would lead one to believe that members of the Cleveland Division of Police are against participating in events with our Cleveland Browns athletes. This is simply not the viewpoint of all of our officers. The Cleveland Browns Organization has been a longtime partner of the Cleveland Division of Police, donating and assisting (many times quietly) to our Police Athletic League and hosting events with kids in the city’s Muny League Football . We know that we can count on this partnership to continue.

As law enforcement officers, we took an oath to serve and to protect. We protect the rights of all citizens to express their views as protected by the First Amendment of our constitution, no matter the issue. Our American flag is an important symbol to our great country and we, as officers, will continue to salute it.

More importantly, we as Cleveland Police Officers strive to open the lines of communication with all of our citizens–athletes and enthusiastic Browns fans alike. Who are we kidding?! We are CLEVELAND!! And we stay strong together. We stand together.

Moving forward, I can tell you that we within the Cleveland Division of Police are in communication with the Cleveland Browns Organization as we have been in the past. We want to hear from our players, the fans and our citizens of this great city. We want to bridge the gap. We want to talk.

I look forward to a continued partnership with our CLEVELAND athletes, our community and a great BROWNS season!!!

About 30 Browns players stood arm-to-arm in a line behind the rest of the team during the national anthem before an Aug. 26 preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

A veterans group outside Strongsville said last week that it would not show Browns games because of the player protests.

The Browns’ protests are part of a social-consciousness movement started last season by then-quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who became a polarizing figure for kneeling during the anthem.