A Tampa Bay Buccaneers player's refusal to stand for the national anthem to protest the election of Donald Trump on a day of veterans' tributes set off a firestorm of debate Monday.
Bucs receiver Mike Evans refused to stand for the anthem as a statement of opposition to Trump, calling him "a joke" and saying, "America's not right, right now."
Evans' actions came as America remains tense and deeply divided over last week's election, with anti-Trump protests in many cities on five consecutive nights. The timing of Evans' protest, on a day when the Bucs and all other NFL teams honored veterans for their service, greatly intensified the controversy.
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"I think it's outrageous," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, noting that Tampa Bay is home to 12,000 active military personnel. "What he's done is, disrespected them, he's disrespected the flag, the national anthem and our whole country."
Latvala said he won't attend another Bucs game unless Evans apologizes or is released, and he urged fans to do the same, calling Evans' behavior "wrong and selfish."
On Sunday, Evans, 23, removed his cap and remained seated during the pre-game playing of the national anthem on a day when the team also was honoring veterans in a tribute called "Salute to Service."
Tampa Bay, home of MacDill Air Force Base, has a large active and retired military population.
"I'm not going to stand for something I don't believe in," Evans told reporters after Sunday's game. "I'm not big on politics. I told myself, 'If this happens, then America's not right, right now."
Latvala said he respects Evans' right to protest, but he said the team also must respect how fans spend their money.
"I just think it's wrong, it's selfish, and I'm tired of it," Latvala said. "I frankly think they (players) forget who really pays their salary, and it's people who go to games."
Latvala's criticism of Evans did more than touch a sensitive nerve about Trump, the election and the First Amendment.
It also raised questions about whether the Bucs franchise could be facing political problems in Tallahassee.
Latvala, an avid sports fan and who frequently attends Tampa Bay Rays games, is the incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and will shape the next state budget.
The Bucs receive an annual $2 million tax subsidy from the Legislature to pay for improvements at Raymond James Stadium, a point noted on Twitter by Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, himself a former state legislator.
"We should stop sending the monthly check they're already receiving," Fasano tweeted.
Latvala drew a link between Trump's defeat of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's election eight years ago as America's first African-American president, including Obama's previous associations with militant Chicago activist Bill Ayers.
"A lot of people were very upset with that," Latvala said. "Did you see any of these protests from those people? They accepted the results."
Dozens of people posted sharply-worded comments on Latvala's Facebook page. Most, but not all, agreed with the legislator.
"How is it disrespect to a country that has never respected black people as American?" Richard Edwards asked Latvala. "Yes I wore the uniform and fought for this racist nation but I do not respect the flag of racism and bigotry For black people the 1st amendment does not work the same (as) for people of color."