Courtesy Portland DSA / YouTube

If you've been to a Blazer game recently you're likely aware of the "Hometown Hero" tribute which takes place shortly before halftime. The crowd goes quiet as a local veteran is introduced and thanked publicly for his or her service. Everyone stands and cheers as the song, "There Goes My Hero" blasts over the PA. Mascot Blaze the Trailcat hugs the veteran and then hands them a bag of goodies from the corporate sponsor, Beaverton-based sniper rifle scope manufacturer, Leupold & Stevens.

On Tuesday night, however, things went down a little differently. Portland native Josuee Hernandez, a Marine corps veteran, chose to use the recognition as a platform to protest the team's association with "war profiteer" Leupold & Stevens. As his image flashed on the jumbotron, Hernandez unzipped his jacket to reveal a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "END THIS SPONSORSHIP - #NoLeupold". As soon as the control room figured out what was going on, they cut away from the camera and the crowd was left wondering whether to cheer as usual or simply sit back down. Blaze the Trailcat looked befuddled as well.

The Mercury reached out to Hernandez via email and asked him a few questions about the protest:

MERCURY: How did this protest come about? Is it the result of a formal group, or simply a group of friends who came up with an idea?

Hernandez: In the past few years, I’ve grown more aware of the kinds of injustices happening the world, including the massacres of peaceful Palestinians in Gaza by IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). One of the few groups I saw actively protesting that horror was Portland DSA (Democratic Socialists of America). Knowing that the Hometown Heroes segment frequently bestows a type of unfettered adulation to veterans, and that it's sponsored by Leupold & Stevens, I worked with friends in Portland DSA to use that platform to protest. I’ve since become a member of DSA myself.

What specifically do you object to about the Blazers' association with Leopold & Stevens?

I think it’s terrible that Leupold & Stevens actively profits from war crimes, as many IDF have been spotted using their scopes in “combat” zones against Palestinian protesters. I think they know how morally awful that is, so they’re sponsoring the “hometown hero” segment at Blazers games to siphon the local goodwill of a generally anti-war and progressive state. The Blazers are a symbol of Portland and they purport to do a lot of good for the community, so why should they continue to do business with war profiteers? At minimum, they should end that partnership.

Can you describe your service in the military, the timing of it, and was there a point at which your perspective on being a soldier changed?

I joined the Marine Corps right out of high school in 2004 and served for five years. Honestly, I still can’t believe we’re still fighting the same war in Afghanistan. I was always a generally left-leaning person, actually voting for John Kerry about a week before shipping off to boot camp. That said, particular conditions of my life were pretty limited; my family was very poor and we were lacking a lot of access to resources, education, and opportunity, so when the Marine recruiter came knocking and told me about what he could do for me, I listened. Standard story for a lot of poorer 17-year-olds, I guess. That being said, there’s a lot more of us in the military than you might believe. Many of us didn’t believe in the war, though we willingly signed up. I had to reconcile my beliefs against my actions over those five years. I’m sure it was the same for a lot of my brothers and sisters when I was in.

Josuee Hernandez (left) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Josuee (left) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

How did the Blazer staff treat you before and after the protest? Did anyone say anything to you afterward about it? Were you asked to leave?

The Blazers staff was very nice, actually. I hope this doesn’t leave a sour taste in their mouth, because despite everything, they were very cordial and helpful. After the incident, one of them walked past me and said, “Thank you for your service.” Another did the same, but said, “We don’t like political stuff.” Like, really? Was I the one making it political? What was the flag waving and “honoring” of veterans before that, then? It’s already political, I just made it political in a different, more ethical way. Though I had enormous support during and after the event, I did not feel comfortable returning to my seat and risking hostility from either the staff or anyone else by staying. Point having been made, I chose to leave at that time.

What do you hope comes of this action?

World peace, in the long run. :) But for now, I sincerely hope the Blazers end their partnership with Leupold & Stevens. I speak for a lot of Portland residents (I’ve lived here since I was 8) and Blazers fans when I say I do not want my home team cavorting with war profiteers just because it may be “good business.”
Additionally, I’d like for companies to stop obfuscating their shady practices with these “honoring veterans” ceremonies. Thanks for the thanks, but stop. We’re growing keen to what we really need more and more every day, like more access to mental and healthcare services, access to housing—and the hometown hero bit ain’t it.

Video of protest: