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Romano: Neither the time, nor the place, for a football player's protest

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) became the object of fury for refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest of Donald Trump's election. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) became the object of fury for refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest of Donald Trump's election. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
Published Nov. 15, 2016

Here are two tales of freedom.

They have nothing, and everything, in common.

On a Sunday afternoon in Tampa, a stadium of people stood for the traditional playing of the national anthem before a Buccaneers football game. Unbeknownst to many, a lone player refused to rise.

Mike Evans would later say that his silent, and defiant, gesture was his way of protesting the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States.

"I'm not going to stand for something I don't believe in,'' Evans eventually explained.

On a Thursday afternoon in 1945 in Tokyo, hundreds of Allied POWs stood on a dock next to the prison that had been their home, and their hell, for years. Soon they would be rescued by small landing craft that would take them to the USS Benevolence in Tokyo Bay.

UPDATE: Bucs' Mike Evans says he will end national anthem protest

As they neared the large hospital ship with its giant Red Cross symbols on the hull, Sgt. Edward Jackfert was overcome with thoughts of the 40 months he'd spent as a prisoner of war and the soldiers who died excruciating deaths from disease and malnutrition.

"I was fine until I saw our flag above the ship, and that's when I burst into tears,'' Jackfert said Monday afternoon from his Tampa home. "It's rather difficult to talk about, even now. Every time I give a talk to a group, I stutter at that part. But I always tell them, freedom is the greatest thing in the world.''

They once stood on the same field at Raymond James Stadium, the player and the soldier. Two Novembers ago, Evans was a rookie receiver who had 125 receiving yards in a game against the Falcons. That same afternoon, Jackfert was honored by the Bucs as their military Hero of the Game.

UPDATE: Bucs' Mike Evans says he will end national anthem protest

The mingling of their stories is not meant to ridicule Evans, but rather to explain the power of symbols and the importance of understanding other points of view.

Evans' protest, as well as those of others around the country in recent days, is rooted in the idea of a better America. And for more than two centuries, this nation has permitted its citizens to make similar arguments criticizing the powers that be. That is freedom in its greatest incarnation.

And, yes, I have admiration for anyone willing to risk ridicule and scorn while publicly expressing their beliefs. But I also believe we have a responsibility to consider the effect of our actions on others.

RELATED: What motivated Bucs' Mike Evans to sit during anthem to protest Trump?

And for a great many people, the flag and the national anthem are more than staid symbols. They represent the sacrifices of fathers, mothers, siblings and friends who perished in wars. They represent futures that were lost and families that were never made whole again.

Maybe the flag means something different to Evans; our life experiences shape us all in unique ways. And I don't think any of us has a patent on how someone else should feel.

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Edward Jackfert is 94 now, and still has not let go of his nightmares from 70 years ago. The torture. The cruelty. The hopelessness and the death. He talks of the children who threw stones at prisoners, yet also of the food that freed POWs shared with local residents when care packages were parachuted in during the final days of war.

"People today don't know what it means to fight for freedom,'' he said.

He's right. Too many of us don't.

And it should never be taken for granted.