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Brooksville restaurant owner: Burn your NFL gear, get a free footlong

John Lee, left, owner of Brooksville's Coney Island Drive-Inn, stands with Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion outside the iconic restaurant. On Sunday, the two men will hold a so-called "Celebration of Patriotism" event, where the public is invited to burn their NFL gear in exchange for a "world famous footlong" hot dog. [Photo by Megan Reeves]
Published Sep. 28, 2017

BROOKSVILLE — Coney Island Drive-Inn is throwing a party Sunday afternoon, and the National Football League is not invited.

John Lee, owner of the iconic hot dog spot at 1112 E Jefferson St. in Brooksville, has invited the public to the so-called "Celebration of Patriotism," where people will be able to throw their NFL merchandise into a fire pit in exchange for a free "world famous footlong."

It's all in response to recent protests by NFL players and coaches who knelt or sat during the national anthem to call attention to racial injustice. Last week, President Donald Trump called for team owners to fire players who refuse to stand.

An Army veteran, Lee said he was "taught to respect the flag and the national anthem." When he saw players across the league kneeling, he was disappointed.

"There is a right and wrong way to show your displeasure," he said, "and turning your back on this country's values is the wrong way."

Lee said the idea for Sunday's event came from a conversation with Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion, whose business, American Gun and Pawn, sits next door.

"We wanted to have something that wasn't hateful or mean, but gave people a way to vent," Lee said. "This was not planned with any malice intended, just to have the song honored as it should be."

Champion, a self-described lifelong football fan whose son is an active-duty Marine, said he is "really p----- off about this whole thing" and plans to never watch the NFL again.

"This community takes our flag seriously, so this is not acceptable in our book," he said. "It is disrespect to our country and we are not going to watch this c--- anymore."

Lee said while he has gotten some push-back via Facebook messages, where he says people have called him derogatory names, he is "not looking for confrontation." Champion agreed and said the event will be "mild." The organizers plan to collect donations for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

"Basically, instead of watching football on Sunday, we are going to hang out with our neighbors," he said. "The NFL thinks this is going to go away, but it's not. I am never watching the NFL again, and I think a lot of people in our community would agree with that."

The event has blown up on Facebook, where more than 120 people have RSVPed. Lee and Champion say they expect many more to show.

"We want the opposite of what we saw on TV," Lee said. "We want a display of patriotism shared by many people in this community."

Live music will begin out back of the restaurant at 1:30 p.m. and go on until the presentation of the flag by Marine Corps League Detachment 708 at 2:45 p.m. A vocalist will perform the national anthem at 3 p.m., and burn barrels will be lit immediately afterward.

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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