The National Football League rejected a proposed Super Bowl program advertisement from the American Veterans (AMVETS) organization that carried the message "Please Stand", USA Today reported on Tuesday.
AMVETS national commander Marion Polk hit out at the decision in a posting on Twitter, accusing the NFL of seeking to stifle freedom of speech.
"@AMVETSHQ will NOT tolerate the @NFL refusing #Veteran right to free speech. We fought for it! #PleaseStand #SuperBowl."
The issue emerged as the NFL prepares to bring the curtain down on arguably the most tumultuous season in the sport's history, with President Donald Trump attacking players in September who refused to stand for the national anthem in a protest aimed at drawing attention to racial injustice.
Trump questioned the patriotism of the protesting players, accusing them of disrespecting the national anthem, the US military and the Stars and Stripes.
Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, told USA Today that the organization had not intended the single-page advert to be a criticism of players who had kneeled for the anthem.
"The protests are very much out of our purview," Chenelly was quoted as saying. "We were not looking to comment on those. This is part of our Americanism program."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the ad was rejected because the Super Bowl seeks to avoid material that could be construed as political.
"The Super Bowl game program is designed for fans to commemorate and celebrate the game, players, teams and the Super Bowl. It has never been a place for advertising that could be considered by some as a political statement," McCarthy said.
"The NFL has long supported the military and veterans and will again salute our service members in the Super Bowl with memorable on-field moments that will be televised as part of the game."
The NFL had notified AMVETS of its decision before the program went into production and suggested an alternative slogan -- "Please Honor our Veterans", McCarthy added.
"They chose not to and we asked it to consider using 'Please Stand for Our Veterans.' Production was delayed as we awaited an answer. As the program was going to production, the organization asked about including a hashtag -- as in #PleaseStand -- and was informed that approval would not be provided in time and was asked to approve the ad without the hashtag.
"The organization did not respond and the program ultimately went into production to meet deadlines."
This year's Super Bowl takes place on February 4 when the New England Patriots face the Philadelphia Eagles in Minneapolis.