Two high school football referees walked off the field before a game in protest after players knelt during the national anthem.
According to NJ.com, high school football officials Ernie Lunardelli, 54, and his son, Anthony Lunardelli, 27, left the field after observing players from Monroe High School kneeling during the anthem.
"I'm not in favor of anyone disrespecting our country, our flag, the armed forces," Ernie said. "What they're protesting has nothing to do with the national anthem and I'm against it, so I decided to protest for them kneeling and that's what I did."
"Whoever is disrespecting that flag and the national anthem, that’s who I have a problem with," he added. "That’s my protest. I don’t care if it’s a baby, if it’s an 80-year-old man, anybody. I don’t care. Any race, color, I don’t care who it is. It’s not the way I was brought up and it pisses me off that people are doing that."
According to the Independent Journal Review, Ernie said that he warned the league's assigner of games that if any players knelt during the national anthem, he would walk off the field.
When Ernie and Anthony left the field, they were replaced by two cadets who were assigned to work on the chain crew at the game. Ernie said that he does not think the game was official.
"That game should not count now because they did not have the right personnel on the field," he said. "These kids weren't officially carded and trained, so they're putting the kids in jeopardy; I'm not."
Greg Beyer, athletic director at Monroe, declined to comment on the incident, as did state officials assigner Carmine Picardo, who said that he "did not know what could happen."
"I have a lawyer already set up because they're not going to run me out of town," said Ernie. "They're going to try to blackmail me. I know what's going to happen."
A number of high school football players in New Jersey knelt before games in 2016. According to NJ.com, nothing in the New Jersey statue, code or case law that addresses kneeling during the national anthem at football games. There were no discussions about suspensions or punishments for any of the players who knelt.
Jack DuBois, assistant director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the incident at Monroe was very unusual.
"I’ve been involved in high school athletics for 48 years and I’ve never seen or heard of an official leaving a game in any sport," DuBois said. "I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment about what transpired without knowing exactly what happened and why. I can tell you this will be investigated by both the Central Jersey chapter and our office."