Harford state's attorney, sheriff blast protesting Ravens players

Joe Cassilly, Harford County State's Attorney and a disabled Vietnam War veteran, pauses at the War Memorial in Havre de Grace's Tydings Park following Veterans Day services in 2014.
Joe Cassilly, Harford County State's Attorney and a disabled Vietnam War veteran, pauses at the War Memorial in Havre de Grace's Tydings Park following Veterans Day services in 2014. (Matt Button/The Aegis file)

Harford County State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, blasted Baltimore Ravens players in a post on Facebook Sunday, calling them "spoiled brats with jock straps for brains" after they engaged in silent protest during the playing of the national anthem before their game that day against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London.

"These spoiled brats with jock straps for brains think getting overpaid entitles them to shame the symbol of the struggles, sacrifice and belief of millions of Americans," Cassilly wrote in an email.


Cassilly is an Army veteran who served during the Vietnam War and uses a wheelchair because of a severe injury he suffered after a fall from a helicopter.

"I feel like putting a sign on myself and say, 'I'd love to stand up for the flag, except I lost my legs in Vietnam,' " Cassilly said.


Harford County's other top elected law enforcement officer — Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler — also took Ravens players to task on Facebook Sunday. Gahler said he has boycotted the NFL since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem at the start of the 2016 NFL season.

"The embarrassment that is the NFL continues and people wonder why I am on strike," Gahler wrote on his personal Facebook page.

He explained Monday that "on strike" meant his personal boycott of NFL games.

"Certainly the NFL has an image issue and these 'protests' are damaging that brand," Gahler said.

Ravens and Jaguars players either took a knee or linked arms on the field to protest in solidarity with fellow NFL players in response to President Donald Trump's recent call for team owners to fire any player who protests during the national anthem.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a b---- off the field right now, out, he's fired. He's fired,'" Trump said during a rally in Alabama Friday.

Kaepernick later said he was protesting racism and police brutality against minorities. Kaepernick has suffered a major backlash from people who feel he is disrespecting the American flag and the sacrifices of veterans. He has yet to be signed by another NFL team. Few players copied his protests until Sunday's games.

"Will be doing a housecleaning of any Ravens merchandise later today and getting it all ready for the burn," Gahler wrote in his post.

The sheriff clarified in an interview Monday that he does not plan to actually burn all of his Ravens stuff.

"I do plan on getting rid of my Ravens items," he said.

President Trump lashed out at players who followed Kaepernick's lead, saying during a rally Friday that fans should boycott the league. Many NFL players protested Sunday in response to the president's comments.

Gahler said he was attending a political fundraiser Sunday morning and the Ravens game was on television. The sheriff said his back was to the TV, but he was informed Ravens players were taking a knee.


The outraged Gahler searched online for an image to go along with his post — he used an image with a red X and the word BOYCOTT!! over the NFL logo — and he then wrote his thoughts, which were posted shortly after 10 a.m.

"Ravens join the nonsense of taking [a] knee while on the soil of the Country we gained our independence from," he wrote.

The post generated 162 comments and had been shared nearly 1,700 times as of Tuesday afternoon. Many commenters expressed their support for Gahler, who plans to run for a second term as sheriff in 2018. Others stated the players were exercising their First Amendment rights to engage in a peaceful protest.

Gahler replied in the comments section on Facebook that he supports the players exercising their right to protest on their own time, but not while they are on the job and in uniform.

"One of the strengths of our country is the ability to have a civil conversation on both sides of an issue and come to some kind of an understanding of people's perspectives," he told The Aegis.

Gahler noted NFL players have been sanctioned for other forms of expression, such as on-field celebrations, or prohibited from wearing items such as a decal to honor Dallas police officers killed in the line of duty last summer, but not for anthem protests.

"It bothers me greatly that the NFL owners aren't willing to stand up and take a stand on this," he said.

Gahler said when police officers write via social media any comments considered grossly offensive or racist they are l media have been fired, he said, and "I don't accept the First Amendment from them either as their defense."

He said the Sheriff's Office does not have a specific policy regarding uniformed deputies to stand while the anthem is being played, but they could face "administrative action" if they took a knee.

"Certainly I would not be tolerant of a deputy who chose to kneel," he said.

Gahler said the Sheriff's Office, as well as his former employer, the Maryland State Police, have policies against "conduct unbecoming" of an officer.

"We are products of the uniform," he said.

Cassilly, who said he is not seeking re-election next year, also expressed his thoughts on Facebook about the Ravens' protest.

He wrote that he had thrown out clothing bearing Ravens logos, would not buy anything with a Ravens logo, including lottery tickets, nor attend auctions where Ravens tickets are for sale, or watch television stations that cover the Ravens or even deal with M&T Bank, as Ravens M&T stadium is named for the bank.

"I'm done with the Ravens," Cassilly said Monday.

He and Gahler stressed they are not speaking for their respective agencies.

"I express my opinion on Facebook and that's where you go to express your opinion," Cassilly said.

Both men said that as politicians, they are expected to have opinions on political issues.

"And yet, I'm reading posts from people that think I shouldn't have an opinion," Gahler said. "It's just backwards thinking."

Cassilly said he does not understand protests against police brutality, as "the number of police use-of-force cases is way down, and most of the ones that there are, are found to be justified anyway."

Cassilly, a Bel Air native, said he has never been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but he might purchase a sweatshirt bearing the name of offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger and the only member of his team who stood for the anthem Sunday.

"These other people don't understand the flag stands for," he said, "It's their own personal temper tantrum."

Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.

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