I am not a politician,” says Ira’s Deli owner Iraj Rafei. “I am a veteran.”
Until two weeks ago, Ira’s Deli on 72nd and Prescott was pretty much the only spot in Portland’s Cully neighborhood showing the NFL Sunday Ticket. But owner Iraj “Ira” Rafei says he now refuses to show the games because NFL players are disrespecting the American flag and anthem.
Last year, quarterback Colin Kaepernick arguably is out of a job over his decision to kneel silently during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. But after Trump wistfully dreamed of a day NFL team owners would fire any “son of a bitch” player who dared kneel during the national anthem to protest police violence against black men, the silent protest has expanded into a movement.
Players of the NFL have responded to Trump’s commentary in kind over the past couple weeks. The Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch entered the stadium in an Everybody vs. Trump shirt, and many teams either kneeled in unison or stayed in the locker room during the anthem, with NBA teams and high-school cheerleaders showing solidarity.
This was all too much for Rafei. He shut down showings of NFL games at his shop and deli last month—which inspired customer complaints about the owner’s political stance on Yelp and the Cully neighborhood’s Next Door app.
“After asking to watch some games on a Sunday,” writes one customer on Yelp. “They got political when they wouldn’t put any of the NFL games on after Trump attacked the league and players for kneeling during the anthem. I respect their decision for doing so but will not be returning.”
Rafei says he is not responding to the content of the protest over police violence—just how people treat the anthem.
“It’s not the principle,” he says. “I’m not a politician, I am a veteran. I fought for our country, I deeply believe in our flag, in the national anthem. It’s a matter of respect. I’m an American.”
Rafei emigrated to the United States from Iran in 1980 to flee the Islamic revolution, and subsequently enrolled for military service in the U.S., serving as a translator on the ground during the first Gulf war and fighting behind enemy lines.
“When I came to this country—it’s the best country on the face of the earth. I love the United States. I vowed to respect the flag,” he says. “Nothing I do is political or religious. I feel that we should respect all flags. If you respect all flags, all nations, they will respect yours.”
But any action surrounding a political protest is always, of course, political—and many have written that every form of protest by black Americans is always called inappropriate.
“I told the person who answered I would never be back,” wrote another customer on the Next Door app, after calling the Deli to complain about the policy. “I explained a few of the reasons. I also told her that the owner has every right to not show the games for any reason he chooses and I support that and I have the right to choose where I spend my money. We thanked each other for being open and honest with each other.”
Update October 5: Rafei says he has always welcomed people of all races, ages and religions at his shop—”I’m a minority myself,” he says—and that he is shocked and deeply upset at the anger this has caused. “If they’re actually going to come watch the NFL games, fine, I’ll show them the games,” he says. He asks that people please stop calling his deli.