MINNEAPOLIS — Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans took a knee for the national anthem last year as the NFL reacted to what it felt was social injustices in America. DeSean Jackson joined Evans on Sunday as the league reacted to recent comments from President Donald Trump.
In front of Evans and Jackson, their Tampa Bay teammates stood along the sideline, their arms locked in unity. The Minnesota Vikings stood on their sideline with their arms locked together. The demonstration, which is occurring league-wide, was quiet and understated from the two teams meeting in Minnesota.
“When the President is singling out athletes, African-American athletes, myself and my other colleagues that took a knee just have different beliefs than him,” Evans said after Minnesota’s 34-17 victory. “It was very childish on his part. It seems like he’s trying to divide us. I think this is just an opportunity for me to do what I can. A lot of guys around the league did it and I understand why.”
The league has responded to comments made by President Trump, who said players who don’t respect the flag should be fired. Trump added emotion and anger to a demonstration that has been seen in NFL stadiums since Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the anthem last season.
Evans and Jackson spoke on the team plane heading to Minnesota and decided to kneel in unison with their hands on their hearts.
“Hopefully we can find a way to get things resolved and not be talked down upon from someone supposed to be our leader, supposed to be worrying about running our country, not tweeting and texting and speaking on NFL guys and what their rights are,” Jackson said. “It’s crazy to me. It’s a joke. He’s a clown and I just speak honestly.”
Both players said the hand over the heart was a gesture to show support for the military, one aspect that has been a criticism of players who have decided to kneel.
“I still wanted to show support,” Jackson said. “However, anyone takes it, I’m a firm believer that everyone has their own rights. It’s more unity than anything. We don’t want to be individualized. We don’t want to take away from our overall goal, which is to go out there and play football. But at the same time, we do have feelings towards things that are being said out there in the world.
“For someone that’s supposed to be representing our country, how are we supposed to follow after him? He’s supposed to be our leader. The disrespect blatantly, the words that are being said, I don’t think any NFL player thinks that their mom is a son of a ‘B,’ so just disrespect. People are going to take it however they’re going to take it. It’s on us to still have a right to feel how we’re feeling. That’s how I feel. So, that’s what I showed today.”
Teams league-wide have come out in support of their players exercising their right to free speech and demonstration during the anthem. Several Minnesota players ran to the end zone and kneeled for a few minutes after being introduced and before joining teammates on the sideline for the anthem.
Shortly before the game, Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf released their own statement from the team. The Wilfs along with general manager Rick Spielman, joined their players locked in arm on the sideline.
“Professional sports offer a platform unlike any other, a platform that can bring people from a variety of backgrounds together to impact positive change in our society,” the statement read. “As owners, it is our job to foster an environment that recognizes and appreciates diversity of thought and encourages using this platform in a constructive manner. Rather than make divisive statements, we believe in promoting thoughtful, inspiring conversation that unifies our communities. We are proud of our players, coaches and staff for the important role they play in our community, and we fully support their constitutional right to respectfully and peacefully express their beliefs.”
The Buccaneers also released a statement expressing the franchise’s views.
“As we have stated previously, the Buccaneers recognize every individual’s constitutional right to freedom of speech, which is crucial to the American way of life that we cherish,” co-chairman Joel Glazer said. “We are equally committed to the principles of inclusivity and respect for differing points of view that should be afforded to all Americans.
The Vikings said it was a team-decision to lock arms. Coach Mike Zimmer said he didn’t say anything to the team regarding the demonstration.
“I’m glad our guys are a team,” Zimmer said after the game. “I’m a football coach. I’m not a politician. I’m not going to get into any of that.”
Vikings safety Harrison Smith says they are a team:
Evans said he’s not worried about receiving criticism after he heard backlash last year.
“I don’t care about the criticism at all,” Evans said. “It’s coming from the people that are on his side that support him. I obviously don’t, and more and more people are starting to lean toward the other way and starting to see his true colors. So, I hope that America and the people that are following him sees that he’s trying to divide us. That’s not good.”
Evans’ main issue has been President Trump’s use of social media to attack athletes in several sports.
“It’s the tweets, Evans said. “He’s tweeting athletes. Like, why is he singling out athletes? I don’t really see him tweeting about all the other things going on, the neo-Nazis, the situation in Charlottesville, I don’t really see him talking about that much. But he has the time and the nerve to call out the Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry, all of us in the NFL that took a knee out of protesting. He has the time to do that, it’s not right. And he called us SOBs, so that was very disrespectful.”
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