Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Browns: NFL's anthem drama comes to Tampa

TAMPA — There is real anticipation for tonight's Bucs preseason home opener.

There will also be football.

Who will stand and who will sit or kneel for the national anthem before the Bucs play the Browns?

Twelve Cleveland players took a knee before their last game, partly in response to events in Charlottesville.

You have to wonder if some Bucs players will join in Saturday, particularly after Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter told them that they are free to do as they choose, as they should be.

Things are moving so quickly. Protestors are outside NFL headquarters in New York in the name of Colin Kaepernick, who can't find a job. Baseball great Henry Aaron has come out in support of Kaepernick. Buffalo Bills runner LeSean McCoy says Kaepernick isn't good enough to be worth the "distraction." And when NBC televises the NFL season-opener on Thursday, Sept. 7, Chiefs at Patriots, it will televise the national anthem, which few telecasts ever do anymore.

There's something happening here.

Get used to it.

Bucs offensive lineman Demar Dotson expects some Bucs to take a knee tonight.

"I think so," Dotson said. "I think some guys are going to do it now that coach has kind of opened up about it. I'm not all into it, but some guys believe what they believe and you got to respect it."

The Bucs head coach will stand on the sideline for the anthem with his hand over this heart.

"That's what I believe in," Koetter said Wednesday. "You got plenty of guys that believe in that. But again, we're not all the same. We don't all come from the same place. We don't all have the same background. We have to respect every man's opinion."

With that in mind, Koetter used a Tuesday team meeting for a discussion on some of the issues that led to these protests and events in Charlottesville.

So, what will happen tonight?

I'll respect those who stand. I'll respect those who don't as a way of peaceful protest. I would never sit out an anthem. My father served in World War II. My brother served in the Air Force. But they both fought for all our rights. And I have no problem with any voice, even voices I detest, speaking on college campuses. To me, it's part of the deal.

There's something happening here.

I know there are people who disagree with me. Koetter has surely made some enemies with his approach. And so will any players who sit tonight.

"I was impressed," Dotson said of Koetter. "He believes in a free will. If you want to express yourself, you don't have to worry about the head coach. Now, the owners, you don't know what's going to happen with them. But the head coach, as long as you back up what you say, it's okay."

There's something happening here.

Several Bucs fans at the final day of training camp on Thursday said they expected protest tonight.

"I would imagine there might be (protests)," said William Johnston, 41, of Tampa. "I don't like the idea of people being disrespectful to the flag or anthem. But if it makes a difference, that's good. I think Mike Evans protested last year, but he didn't have a clear message. Michael Bennett gave me a new perspective. He was thoughtful. We're all fighting for a right to say what we want."

"On one hand, we should all respect the flag," said Rico Jones, 42, of St. Petersburg. "On the other hand, we should all fight for justice and equality. We're at a critical time."

"I don't think they should do it," Natalie Wakefield of Tampa said. "But they're trying to get a message across. And it's working. We're talking about it."

Meanwhile, the big fight is Saturday in Las Vegas. Boxing king Floyd Mayweather and MMA prince Conor McGregor. I hope they knock each other out at the same time. These two were the picture of bigotry and unacceptance as they promoted this spectacle. It's black against white, again. And it has helped sell pay-per-views. I guess they're just giving some of us what we want. That's what worries me.

We're at a critical time.

There's something happening here.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

     
 
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