TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – It was the protest heard around the NFL. The stage was set Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to take on the Chicago Bears.
In addition to the excitement of a packed home game, it was also Veterans Day weekend. The National Football League recognized those who have served with a special tribute, Military Appreciation Day. As the American flag was held across the field, a choir began singing the National Anthem. Fans in the stands were excited not only about the game but also about the pride within the stadium, amidst a large military presence.
What many people did not realize at the time is that Bucs’ wide receiver Mike Evans was not standing during the Star-Spangled Banner. Instead, the 23-year-old was seen sitting on the sidelines in silent protest.
After the Bucs big win, the real story seemed to break. Within seconds, the internet exploded, with headline after headline detailing Evans’ refusal to stand during the national anthem. Evans’ protest comes after 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled earlier in the season. Evans says his reason is different. Evans cited his disappointment with the election of Donald Trump as his reason for sitting.
Evans spoke to reporters after the game. “You know what? A reality star can be the president? That’s not a good look for America. I’m not gonna stand for that,” he said. “I’m not going to stand for that. When Ashton Kutcher comes out and says we’ve been “Punk’D,” that’s when I’ll stand again. But I won’t stand anymore.”
Even though Evans is registered to vote in Galveston, Texas, he admits he did not cast his ballot in this election.
His stance did not sit well with scores of NFL fans around the country. People were furious. They took to the internet quickly to share their anger and frustration.
At the same time, there were also many football fans who offered support to Evans, both encouraging and respecting his right to express his opinion over the recent controversial presidential race.
As the Internet went wild all night, football fans woke up ready to talk in even more detail about the protest by Evans. People lit up the phone lines at Sports Radio 620 WDAE during the Ronnie and TKras show. The cohosts themselves admit the opinions across the board from listeners were as polarizing as the election. Fans were split down the middle, Tom Krasniqi said, as callers jammed the lines to discuss both support and disgust for Evans.
“I don’t think (Evans) thought this through yesterday and didn’t realize the firestorm it would create not only for him but his teammates for him in the organization moving forward,” TKras said.
Listeners called into the show, one right after the other. “I come from a military family. My son is serving in Tokyo right now. I know the feelings that come with being in a military family, but Mike made it clear this doesn’t mean he doesn’t support the military,” co-host Ronnie Lane said. “He has a right to express his opinion.”
Another caller didn’t agree.
“This kid doesn’t have a brain. What’s wrong with him? There’s no excuse; there is no excuse for somebody to do that. I would get all the veterans groups to show up at the next home game and protest against this guy and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” the caller said.
News Channel 8 also talked with fans Monday. “What a weak, weak person that is. He’s a nobody,” Darryl Wheatley said. “If you want to make a statement, do something outside of embarrassing yourself, your team, your town. He basically embarrassed the town of Tampa.”
Bucs Head Coach Dirk Koetter held his regularly-scheduled Monday afternoon post-game press conference where he told members of the media that he was “disappointed” with what Evans did, but fully supported his player’s right to freedom of expression.
“I hope this doesn’t affect the team. I will talk to Mike on Wednesday. I want to fill Ray Jay with fans,” Koetter said.