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Game rally, jersey-burning planned by Tampa Bay critics of kneeling NFL players

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receivers Mike Evans (13) and DeSean Jackson (11) kneel during the national anthem before their NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receivers Mike Evans (13) and DeSean Jackson (11) kneel during the national anthem before their NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Sep. 29, 2017

TAMPA — Now that a symbolic kneel has ballooned into a protest movement embraced by some athletes and decried by others, two events have been planned in the Tampa Bay area Sunday to protest the protest.

In Tampa, a flag-waving "Stand Up for America" rally is scheduled outside Raymond James Stadium to coincide with the start of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-New York Giants NFL game. And in Brooksville, a diner plans a "Celebration of Patriotism" event where patrons can get a free hot dog for bringing NFL merchandise to burn.

On Sunday, Bucs receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans knelt during the national anthem before their game in Minneapolis, joining a wave of NFL players who used game day for protests highlighting what they see as oppression of black Americans.

Jackson and Evans each held a hand over his heart, as well — in recognition of the nation's military, Evans told the Tampa Bay Times.

Barbara Haselden, co-founder of the tea party-affiliate South Pinellas 912 Patriots, has called the protests "shameful" and is organizing the Tampa rally.

Haselden calls herself a "moderate fan" of the Bucs and "a very patriotic person," adding, "We love our football, but we love our country more."

A promotion for the rally suggested participants bring signs with messages including "United States of America" with the word "United" underlined, "NFL = No Fans Left" and "Take a Knee ... Take a Hike."

The group will gather outside two parking lots, one at the southeast corner of N Dale Mabry Highway and Columbus Drive and the other outside the JC Penney Store in WestShore Plaza.

Haselden said she thinks the majority of the country objects to players kneeling during the anthem.

"I think that they should let the NFL know what they're feeling," she said.

A Cato Institute poll released Monday found that 61 percent of Americans think NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem should keep their jobs and 38 percent believe they should be fired. Democrats and black Americans are these players' strongest supporters.

The game is too politicized, Haselden said, and the last straw for her was seeing children emulate the protesting players — including a 6-year-old first-grader at Wiregrass Elementary School in Pasco County.

READ MORE: Mom says her 6-year-old son was 'silenced' by a teacher after he knelt for the Pledge of Allegiance

A political organizer and candidate for the Pinellas County Commission, Haselden advertised her rally on WGUL-AM 860 radio Wednesday and sent a flyer via email. She isn't keeping track of RSVPs.

"We don't know who's going to show up. I don't care if ten people show up or a thousand."

She said she won't campaign for office at the rally.

"I don't care what voters know. I have been doing things like this for years."

At the same time on Sunday, Coney Island's Drive Inn in Brooksville has invited football fans to bring NFL jerseys or merchandise to burn in exchange for a free hot dog.

More than 120 Facebook users had posted RSVPs by Thursday afternoon.

Owner John Lee said the idea came from a conversation he had with Hernando County Commissioner Steve Champion, who runs the business American Gun and Pawn next door.

"We wanted to have something that wasn't hateful or mean, but gave people a way to vent," Lee said. "This was not planned with any malice intended, just to have the song honored as it should be."

Champion, a self-described lifelong football fan whose son is an active-duty Marine, said he plans never to watch the NFL again.

"This community takes our flag seriously, so this is not acceptable in our book," he said.

Lee said he has gotten some push-back in Facebook messages, where people have called him derogatory names, but he isn't "looking for confrontation."

Champion said the event will be "mild." Organizers plan to collect donations for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Contact Langston Taylor at ltaylor@tampabay.com. Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com

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