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Tampa Bay critics of NFL players stage pre-game rally, jersey-burning boycott

A week after most of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 53-man roster and coaches stood and linked arms during the national anthem, about the same number of people gathered outside Raymond James Stadium to protest the team's actions, prior to Sunday's game against the New York Giants.

Barbara Haselden, organizer of the "Stand Up for America!" protest at the corner of Columbus Drive and Dale Mabry Highway, was happy with the turnout, as much for passing cars honking support as for those braving the heat to stand on the roadside.

"They are for what we are saying," Haselden, 65 and of St. Petersburg, said. "The national anthem honors those who served and died for this country."

Of the dozen protestors to whom the Tampa Bay Times spoke, none were season ticket holders or regularly attended Bucs' games.

The game was a sellout, the Buccaneers' first since a game against Chicago in 2015, and no Bucs protested . But Haselden believes attendance will ultimately drop if players continue to protest during the national anthem.

Buccaneer players Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson went down on one knee and placed their hands over their hearts during the national anthem last week in Minneapolis in response to comments by President Donald Trump, and no players protested on Sunday, a team spokesman said. But linking arms is just as disrespectful, Haselden said.

Those protesting outside the stadium said they were aware of the NFL players' intent to bring attention to what they feel is unfair treatment of African Americans by police.

None would directly comment on whether they agree with that sentiment.

But Haselden said if that is NFL players' cause, they should protest outside a police station or somewhere symbolizing law enforcement.

"Everyone has the right to protest," said Sully Grasso, 70, a Pinellas Park resident and U.S. Army veteran. "But they are paid to play football, so when they are at work, play football."

•••

In Brooksville, a few hundred people gathered at Coney Island Drive Inn for an NFL boycott party, where attendees could toss their football memorabilia into a flaming barrel in exchange for a foot-long hot dog.

Cars spilled out of the parking lot of the iconic hot dog restaurant, lining the roadway in both directions. Out front, families dressed in red, white and blue stood in line for food. Out back, dozens sat together eating at picnic tables as a band played rock music, and as the pile of NFL gear to be burned grew higher.

Tresa Brown, 37, of Brooksville, came to the event with her five children, ranging from ages 7 to 15, without any knowledge of why NFL players and coaches have knelt during the national anthem.

"I'm an American and I respect the American flag," she said. "There might be some other underlying issues, but I don't know… I don't watch the news like that."

After a pastor delivered the invocation, Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion addressed the crowd with what he called a public service announcement.

"This is private property," he began, noting that the national anthem would soon be sung. "We are expecting everyone to stand… If you do have a problem standing for the anthem, it is time to leave… It is an expectation of this event."

Everyone in attendance — almost all of whom were white — stood during the song, which ended with loud cheers by the crowd as light rain began to fall. Coney Island owner and event organizer John Lee quickly lit two burn barrels, one of which held a Colin Kaepernick jersey that attendees spent the beginning of the event spitting on.

One by one, Lee dropped jerseys and jackets, hats, scarves and more into the flames as people cheered.

"No fans left," one person chanted.

"NFL who?" another yelled out. "Booooo," the crowd answered back.

Will Jameson, 37, of Hudson, walked up to the barrel holding a Creamsicle-orange satin jacket, which he said dated from the 1970s and was worth about $1,000.

"The flag means a lot more to me than that team or that jacket ever will," he said after dropping it into the fire. "They have lost me forever."

Down the street less than half a mile, black men gathered beneath trees in the shaded parking lot of a closed-down barber shop at the intersection of Dr. M. L. King, Jr. Blvd. and Leonard Street. For generations, the men in their families have spent Sunday afternoons there, listening to NFL games on car speakers, or sometimes, setting up a TV.

This Sunday was no different.

All of the men, many of whom are employed by the county or city, declined to be identified by the Times for fear of retribution at work. But all agreed the event at Coney Island, where many community leaders gathered, left them feeling uneasy.

"We aren't disrespecting the flag, we just want people to hear us," one man said. "We're just asking for justice."

Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Tampa Bay critics of NFL players stage pre-game rally, jersey-burning boycott 10/01/17 [Last modified: Monday, October 2, 2017 10:09am]
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