The crowd at the Portland Trail Blazers home game against the Milwaukee Bucks last night found themselves watching a mid-contest protest against team sponsor and scopes manufacturer Leupold & Stevens.
Every home game, the team honors a military veteran with a tribute on the Jumbotron. Last night, that veteran was Josuee Hernandez, a former Marine Corps service member and embassy guard to Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr.
Four minutes into the second quarter, a slideshow of Hernandez's military service was projected.
"We would like to award a Trail Blazers gift bag, including a pair of Leupold binoculars, pin and Trail Blazers Jersey," and announcer said, "to tonight's hometown hero."
A camera panned to Hernandez, who unzipped a hooded sweatshirt to reveal a t-shirt with the bold slogan: End This Sponsorship #NoLeupold. He took a knee, refused the gift bag thrust at him by the Blazers' cat mascot and looked deadpan out toward a confused crowd.
Hernandez, a member of the Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, says he applied to be honored at the game explicitly to stage a protest.
A spokesman for the Trail Blazers could not immediately be reached for comment.
Hernandez, who served for five years in the Marine Corps, says he learned about the Blazers' partnership with Leupold & Stevens in May, when over 50 people were killed and thousands more injured amid protests at the Palestinian border of Gaza.
"I felt powerless because I'd done so little to combat this injustice. How could such an atrocity be allowed to happen?" Hernandez says in a statement.
"We should not feel honored by being gifted a bag of trinkets and then paraded in front of an audience," he continues. "We should expect more from our team besides beating LeBron and the Lakers."
The DSA has been protesting Leupold & Stevens' corporate sponsorship of the Blazers for more than three months. They take issue with the Beaverton-based company's outfitting of the Israeli Defense Force and Ferguson, Mo. police department with sniper scopes.
"The Blazers have a reputable brand that they are sullying by teaming up with a war profiteer that assists in the killing of unarmed Palestinians," DSA co-chair Olivia Katbi Smith says in a statement. "Other veterans have reached out to us about our Blazers campaign, and several have agreed to do as Josuee did tonight."
The DSA says it will continue protesting until the team ends the Leupold & Stevens sponsorship.