CARMEL, N.Y.— With the topic of NFL protests hanging thick in the air, Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell staged her own rally on NFL Sunday morning at Carmel’s Cornerstone Park, aimed at letting everyone know that “Putnam Stands” for the anthem.
The event—which drew a large crowd overflowing the small park—was dubbed “Putnam County Stands Up for America.”
“Standing up for the national anthem is not political,” Odell said. “It is not about liking or agreeing with a person serving in office. It is about paying respect to all the men and women who have, and continue to, risk their lives for our freedoms. Freedom isn’t free and the very least one could do is stand for the national anthem every time it is played.”
Sunday’s rally featured comments from Odell, Putnam County Sheriff Don Smith and Karl Rohde, director of Putnam County’s Veteran Service Agency, while District Attorney Robert Tendy sang “God Bless America” and Brewster High School’s Annie Sullivan sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“Standing is a show of respect and unity for the flag,” Rohde told the crowd. “It personifies what we stand for… it shouldn’t be complicated. It’s a display of our moral values.”
Odell said Putnam County has a tradition of installing the Row of Honor flags along Lake Gleneida.
“This year’s theme was going to be about ‘Stand Up for America,’ just to make sure veterans and first responders know we’re thinking about them every day,” she said. “Regardless of what’s pushed out in the media, we here in Putnam County remember our military and first responders.”
Judging by the turnout at the rally, Putnam residents clearly support the sentiment. But it was clear by some reactions during the days leading up to the event that many Putnam residents also share a different point of view.
As news of the upcoming event was spread on social media, several firestorms erupted.
Odell’s own Facebook post announcing the rally was shared more than 220 times, with each share creating its own set of comments, many of which turned argumentative quickly.
Many expressed support, but many also voiced support for the NFL players’ right to peacefully protest.
Some suggested that any protestors at Sunday’s rally in Carmel might be met with an unpleasant response.
“If a snowflake American-hating a**hole (sic) takes a knee at our heroes’ monument (at Sunday morning’s rally), they may not like the reaction,” one poster wrote the night prior to the event.
“What a way to ruin a gathering of people...to bring up politics,” said another comment. “Remember freedom of speech? Can’t you just enjoy the day and not worry about what other people are doing. It’s none of your business, actually, if they stand or kneel.”
Other comments included Vietnam veterans saying they fought for the right, and will kneel if they choose to.
“Most vets get it,” one comment read. “They may not agree with kneeling, but this is the Land of the Free and the home of the Brave.”
Another Putnamite, posting to a Putnam County group, went further, saying “Putnam County Executive Maryellen Odell: these men aren’t kneeling out of apathy or disrespect and they aren’t harming anyone! Your Stand Up for America event is nonsense.”
“I think the nation is divided,” Odell said. “Some of the things that were said are very disappointing. I try not to get sucked into that kind of negativity. I believe that for this nation to heal, we have to maintain positivity. But some just always want to criticize.”