Angry at the 180 NFL players who refused to stand during the national anthem last weekend, about four dozen people protested at a rally Sunday just blocks from Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, where the New York Giants would face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that afternoon.
“My attitude is, if my flag offends you, then I’ll help you pack,” said Jim Heckman. “You need to leave America if you can’t stand the flag.”
Heckman drove from Daytona Beach Sunday morning to the protest after learning about it on Facebook a day earlier.
That was the prevailing sentiment among those standing in the heat Sunday afternoon along Dale Mabry Highway just south of Columbus Drive.
“You show respect for our flag and for our country,” said Tom Timcik from Madeira Beach. “Those guys make millions of dollars playing a game. It isn’t going to kill them to show some respect for their country.”
“If they want to make a political protest, there are other ways to do it besides that,” Timcik added.
Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the first NFL player to refuse to stand during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” during the 2016 exhibition season. He continued to “take a knee” before every game the rest of last season.
Kaepernick said he was protesting wrongdoings against African-Americans and minorities in the U.S.
When the preseason began in August, several other players started doing the same. But the movement exploded last weekend when 180 players refused to stand for the anthem, in large part as a direct response to President Donald Trump‘s incendiary statements about the issue.
Two days earlier, at a rally in Alabama, Trump called players protesting the anthem “sons of bitches,” saying they should be fired.
In the week since, reaction to the protest became a huge story. While some players took a knee before the anthem before the games starting at 1 p.m. eastern this Sunday, only 11 players refused to stand for the actual anthem, according to ESPN’s Darrell Rovell.
Wearing an Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packers jersey, St. Petersburg resident Jean Stair said she loves the NFL, but also respects her country. She expects players to act in that same fashion.
“If they have an agenda,” Stair said, “they have to take it outside the football field.”
Others in the audience agreed, with a few acknowledging the issue of police brutality against blacks is legitimate — but suggesting they should use their celebrity status to hold a news conference (or a protest rally) to speak out on, not before kickoff.
“These guys are making $50 million? $25 million? It’s ridiculous,” said Christopher Dawson, a Tampa resident and U.S. Army veteran. “If they want to complain about inequality, the cops, all this stuff, they can do that in a lot of venues other than messing around with the national anthem and the flag,”
Some in the crowd dismissed the political issues that players like Kaepernick (now out of the league) and Seattle’s Michael Bennett say are necessary to discuss.