Thursday, January 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dirk Koetter says Bucs used team meeting to discuss social issues

During a 20-minute team meeting Tuesday, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter decided to turn the discussion to social issues and whether players are expected to stand for the national anthem.

"My personal view is I'll be standing on the 50-yard line with my hand over my heart,'' Koetter said. "That's what I believe in. You got plenty of guys that believe in that but again, we're not all the same.''

Many players, including Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald, spoke passionately about the subject of social injustice and player protests such as the one in Cleveland in which 12 Browns players knelt during the anthem.

The bottom line?

Bucs players are allowed to express themselves however they choose.

"Coach opened it up about the national anthem and guys protesting and sitting down, letting us know that we can do what we want,'' cornerback Vernon Hargreaves said. "He let us know how he felt, and then he opened up the whole team room to anyone who had anything to say: Stand up and preach your opinion.''

So they did. A few at first, and then a larger discussion that spilled over into the locker room, McCoy said.

"This issue we're dealing with in the world is bigger than football, it's bigger than sports, and guys are trying to make stands,'' McCoy said. "The thing I like about Dirk is he lets everybody be individuals. He lets you be you. And he opened for discussion, 'Hey, if anybody has an opinion, let's talk about it.' And that's the problem with society now.

"Everybody wants to get mad and fight. Immediately, everybody wants to fight. Nobody wants to talk about the situation no more because you don't even know why a person thinks the way they think or feels the way they feel and they know how you feel. We just don't have conversations and talk anymore as a society and that's the problem, man.''

The Bucs, Rays and Lightning jointly announced a donation to help publicly fund the removal and relocation of a Confederate statue to a private cemetery.

"This thing is about love," McCoy continued. "We've got to love each other and everybody just wants to fight. And Dirk, he opened it up to us and let us have a conversation because we're a team. We've got to be a family. If we're going to talk about this, I'm going to let everybody have free rein, free will to feel how you feel but after we stress it, we're going to move forward.

Last season, Bucs receiver Mike Evans sat for the anthem in Week 11 to protest the election of President Donald Trump, but he received a lot of negative feedback and his protest lasted one game.

Evans said last week he supports Seattle and former Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett, who has decided to sit during the national anthem to protest racial injustice.

A year ago, following Evans' protest, the Bucs agreed as a team to stand for the anthem. Koetter said on Tuesday players and coaches discussed social issues and respecting everyone's opinion. Tampa is home to MacDill Air Force Base and the United States Central Command.

"It was just great to have that moment and even afterward, the dialogue spread to the locker room and guys were really able to understand why a guy felt the way they felt,'' McCoy said. "And some things were said that guys didn't know about each other. They were like, "Man, I didn't know that about you but now I do.''

Players said the meeting enabled them to become even more galvanized as a football team.

"It was good,'' tackle Donovan Smith said. "To sit there and have a coach touch on an issue like that, for everybody to have an open forum, it was real good for our team. From the top to the bottom, from the leaders on this team, it speaks volumes to the kind of people we have in this building."

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