The Wadena VFW features beer, ribeye steak, and a big old sign out front that says the following:
“IF YOU CAN’T STAND FOR OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM YOU DON’T NEED TO SIT IN THIS BAR.”
If you already know the context for that sign, you probably already know how you feel about it, but here’s a quick recap. Back in 2018, a wave of football stars, inspired by Colin Kaepernick, started taking a knee during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. Kaepernick told the press he wasn’t about to show pride in a country where black and brown people are routinely oppressed.
The movement started making headlines, people started calling Kaepernick unpatriotic and accusing him of dissing veterans, President Donald Trump weighed in (by helpfully suggesting protesters “maybe” shouldn’t be “in the country”), and the backlash was so severe that the NFL created a new rule requiring players to stand if they’re on the field during the anthem.
Kaepernick is out of the league, but his form of protest is alive and well. Minnesota Teacher of the Year and badass Kelly Holstine recently took a knee during the college national championship football game.
This is all to say it wasn’t that surprising when VFW manager Cody Boyer got a complaint about the sign on Tuesday. As reported by the Wadena Pioneer Journal, a woman told Boyer she found it pretty racist.
Boyer wasn’t available for interview requests, but told the Pioneer Journal his patrons loved the sign. If anything, he thinks the VFW's “gained” customers just because of it.
“Matter of fact, I would like to get a bigger one,” he said.
The woman also took her complaint directly to the sponsor of the sign: Grain Belt Beer, which is brewed by Schell’s Brewery out of New Ulm. To be clear, Schell’s hadn’t made the sign. That was the work of a third-party distributor of the beer, and the brewer hadn’t gotten a say-so. The company told Boyer it wanted no part of it.
Though not for the reason you might be thinking.
Shortly after the story was published, Schell’s vice president Kyle Marti told the Pioneer Journal the company didn’t approve of the banner not because of its central message, but its wording. The word “can’t” kind of made it sound like it was referring to people who literally, physically, cannot stand up for the anthem. He didn’t want people thinking Schell’s was discriminating against disabled folks.
“The opportunity for misinterpretation is too high, especially in today’s political climate.” Boyer insisted the sign stay up, but said he’d cover the Grain Belt logo if it became an issue. A spokesperson with the VFW confirmed it was still firmly in place on Thursday afternoon.
“Awesome! Let the Cupcakes go somewhere else! God bless America!” one commenter said.
“Way to tell people you’re not ADA compliant,” another countered.
“We don’t have to stand!! It’s not in the Constitution!!! The fuzz is because a black man [knelt] first. He was right, and still is,” a third insisted.
A fourth asked, “Is the national anthem constantly playing in that bar or something?”
And honestly? We don’t know.
In short, it’s a mess, but not a mess without context. Marti provided some in an interview with City Pages.
“This is actually a two-part story,” he says. Before the kerfuffle in Wadena, a similar situation popped up about two months ago in Darfur, Minnesota. Same sign, same issues. Marti says Schell's did its best to work with “both sides” and eventually determined that the only “responsible” move was to remove itself from the argument entirely.
To this day, Marti wouldn’t share his personal feelings about the banner—whether it was patriotic, ableist, racist, or anything else.
“I’m not going to sit here and make comments that inflame people either way,” he says.
But he does take umbrage with the notion that he’s somehow less patriotic than the average bear. His family has a long military history. He happens to be a “16-year-plus” veteran, and still serving.