A Tampa Bay Bucs player became the object of fury from a powerful Florida politician and a legion of loud online critics Monday for refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest of Donald Trump's election.
"I think it's outrageous," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, of Sunday's protest by Bucs receiver Mike Evans. "I just think it's wrong, it's selfish, and I'm tired of it."
Latvala said he will boycott Bucs games until Evans apologizes or is released. He urged fans to do the same.
Evans, who said he didn't vote in last week's election, called the president-elect "a joke." His protest came on a day when the Bucs and other NFL teams honored veterans.
"What he's done is, disrespected them, he's disrespected the flag, the national anthem and our whole country," said Latvala.
Latvala is the incoming chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee who will shape the state's budget. Two decades ago, the votes of Latvala and most other lawmakers helped the Bucs upgrade Raymond James Stadium by giving $60 million in tax rebates over 30 years — a law that probably can't be undone.
Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, a former Republican legislator, suggested that it should.
"We should stop sending the monthly check they're already receiving," Fasano tweeted.
While the Bucs got the benefits, the Senate said Monday that money actually goes to Hillsborough County, which owns the stadium.
On the sideline before Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears, Evans removed his cap and remained seated during the pre-game playing of the national anthem.
"I'm not a political person that much, but I have common sense and I know when something's not right," Evans said after the game.
Tampa Bay, home of MacDill Air Force Base, has a large active and retired military population.
Evans emphasized he intended no disrespect to veterans.
"The men and women that have served this country, I'm forever indebted to them," he said. "But the things that have been going on in America lately, I'm not going to stand for that."
Evans incurred more wrath for another reason: He may not have voted.
On election day on Tuesday, Bucs receiver Louis Murphy asked fans on Instagram if they voted. Evans responded: "no."
He's registered to vote in Galveston, Tex., and has no party affiliation.
Evans' actions dismayed his coach. At a news conference Monday, Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter said he was "disappointed" that Evans chose to sit during the national anthem. But he added: "I also respect Mike's freedom of speech and freedom of expression."
On Twitter, ESPN's Sage Steele blasted Evans and attached a photo of grave stones of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The Fox Business host Lou Dobbs called Evans' actions an "insult" to the nation.
Barry Hart of Clearwater, a self-described Trump supporter, tweeted: "I just tore up two Tampa vs. Seattle end zone tickets. No more NFL for me."
But Miko Grimes, the wife of Bucs cornerback Brent Grimes, defended Evans and called the team's fans "dead" and "horrible" for their lack of enthusiasm.
Latvala said he respects Evans' right to protest, but he said the team also must respect how fans spend their money.
"I frankly think they (players) forget who really pays their salary, and it's people who go to games," Latvala said.
Evans was the seventh pick in the NFL draft in 2014 and signed a four-year contract, reportedly for $14.6 million.
Latvala drew a direct comparison between Trump's defeat of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's election eight years ago as America's first African-American president, and recalled Obama's previous associations with the radical Chicago activist Bill Ayers.
"A lot of people were very upset with that," Latvala said. "Did you see any of these protests from those people? They accepted the results."
By mid-afternoon Monday, nearly 300 people had posted remarks on Latvala's Facebook page. Most agreed with him and some responses had racial overtones.
"How is it disrespect to a country that has never respected black people as American?" Richard Edwards of Sunrise asked Latvala. "Yes I wore the uniform and fought for this racist nation but I do not respect the flag of racism and bigotry for black people, the 1st Amendment does not work the same for people of color."
But most comments were like those of Perry Lucas of Seminole, who said of Evans: "He needs to go to another country and see what they pay him!"
Or Charlotte Kennedy of Safety Harbor, who said of Evans: "Just another thug."
Times sports writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SteveBousquet