Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans struck a now-familiar pose before his game on Sunday, kneeling in a form of protest during the pregame national anthem. But the focus of Evans’ protest was one new to NFL stadiums: the impending presidency of Donald Trump.
“If this happens, then America’s not right right now. I said this a long time ago. When he ran, I thought it was a joke. The joke continues,” Evans said of Trump. “I’m not a political person that much, but I got common sense. And I know when something’s not right.”
Evans made clear after the game that he was specifically protesting Trump, and would continue to kneel “as long as he’s the president-elect.” Trump’s inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 20.
Evans also took pains to note he was not seeking to criticize men and women in uniform. “I don’t want to, you know, disrespect the veterans or anything,” Evans said. “The men and women who serve this country, I’m forever indebted to them. But the things that’s been going on in America lately, I’m not going to stand for that. When Ashton Kutcher comes out and says we’ve been punked, then I’ll stand again. But I won’t stand anymore.”
Protests begun earlier this season by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and emulated across the league — though until Sunday, not in Tampa Bay — focused on the issue of police violence and equality for minorities. Evans’ action is the first documented as specifically aimed at Trump himself.
Trump won a bruising, divisive, long-running presidential election on Tuesday, and protests almost immediately rose up in cities all over America and continued for several days afterward. Trump was initially critical of the protests on Twitter, but later backpedaled.
Evans’ opinion of the president-elect isn’t a unanimous one in the NFL. Jay Cutler, whose Bears lost to Tampa Bay on Sunday, made no secret of his allegiances earlier this week. “I’m happy with the results,” Cutler said Wednesday. “I’ve supported Trump for a while. I’m not going to dive into it. I know it’s a sensitive issue, but I like where it’s going.”
Armchair ratings analysts have blamed both protests and the election for the NFL’s ratings decline, and conventional wisdom held that the NFL would either rebound ratings-wise after the election or be forced to face a more serious problem. Evans’ action shows that the NFL may not be done with the ripples of this election, not now and not for at least four years to come.
The Buccaneers released a statement in the wake of the protest, which Evans did not clear with the team beforehand:
The Bucs as a team have issued a statement in response to Mike Evans' national anthem protest of Donald Trump's election. pic.twitter.com/7WsoUil2M6
— Greg Auman (@gregauman) November 14, 2016
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.