TAMPA — Bucs coach Dirk Koetter has made sure his players know where he stands — and where they are supposed to — when it comes to the playing of the national anthem.
"Believe it or not, we have practiced how to line up for the national anthem. We've worked on it," Koetter said Monday.
Not so clear is the Bucs players' stance on the decision by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to sit during The Star Spangled Banner, a controversial protest for the way he believes black people are treated in America.
While Koetter and Bucs players said Kaepernick had every right to exercise free speech, nobody seemed ready to join him by sitting out the national anthem. Koetter said he considers it to be a salute to those who have served in the military, but he doesn't believe the team has the right to require players to stand at attention. However, he adds he would "personally be disappointed" in any player who didn't.
"Personally, I look at that as a salute to the people who paved the way for us," Koetter said. "But at the same time, this is a free country and freedom of speech is something we all believe in and freedom of expression and that's an individual's choice. That's a fine line. But I would personally be disappointed but I think that would be hard to enforce that rule."
Tampa Bay is home to MacDill Air Force Base and the U.S. Central Command and the Bucs have a special relationship with the men and women in uniform there. Receiver Vincent Jackson's commitment to supporting the military earned him the NFL's Salute to Service Award last season. An Army brat who also played in San Diego, home to one of the country's largest Naval bases, his Jackson in Action 83 Foundation benefits military families.
Jackson said while he respects Kaepernick's decision, he says it's not something he could ever do.
"I mean, I have a totally different perspective," Jackson said of the 49ers quarterback. "I think everybody is entitled to their right and beliefs, but it's not something I would do."
What does the stars and stripes mean to someone who has served or a member of a military family, such as Jackson's?
"Oh, it's huge, man," Jackson said. "Paying tribute and your respect to just so many people who have made sacrifices. What a great country we do live in. I understand if people want to get messages across, and make points and bring light to something they think is important. That's his choice of action to do it."
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins says it's good that Kaepernick has used his platform to begin a needed conversation about race in America. But he believes Kaepernick should invest more time, energy and resources into making the San Francisco bay area safe and prosperous.
"That's the great thing about America. We have a choice and he's protesting something and he has a choice in America to do something," Seferian-Jenkins said. "People have the right to react either way and that's the beautiful thing about America. He brings the discussion to something that's going on around the country and at the end of the day it's America. You have a choice.
"I think if you really want to, you should start with investment with your own community and re-educating people and spending money on things that are really, really important. I'm not saying he's not doing that, but for anyone worldwide including myself, if you really want to make a change, you got to be hands-on. You've got to invest your own time, invest your own resources into creating a better world not only for yourself but for the people you surround yourself with."
Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald has a family with a rich history of service in the military, but he respects Kaepernick's right to free speech.
"I have a history that served,'' he said. "My father served in Vietnam, my uncle served in Vietnam, my grandfather served in the Korean War. My history as far as the military is very deep, but this is America. It's hard for you to say one thing or another about a situation because you have the freedom of speech. Whatever you feel is your religion or what you believe in, you have the freedom to display that here in America.
"So how I feel about a situation shouldn't overcome how he feels about a situation, shouldn't overshadow what he has going on in his mind."
Linebacker Lavonte David says he has stood for the anthem since he was a youth football player and that isn't going to change.
"That's just the way he feels, what he believes in," David said. You can't change a man's opinion about what he feels about what's going on in the country these days. I just leave whatever they've got going on to them.
"For me, going back to when I was a kid, I stood for the national anthem so right now I'll still do it."
Contact Rick Stroud at [email protected] and listen from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow @NFLStroud.