Sitting here at age 46, my blood pressure is too high, blood sugar is who knows what, and my creaking bones aren’t agreeing with this minor cool front that blew through Florida late on Monday.
Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, who is just 23, will most likely look back 23 more years from now on his decision to not stand for the National Anthem as a youthful error in judgment.
While I totally agree with his right to protest anything he chooses to, deciding that platform to do it on probably wasn’t his best decision. With hundreds of military personnel being honored during the Bucs’ Salute to Service celebration, plus thousands more who shelled out their hard earned dollars to sit in the stands to watch a three-win football team, Evan chose to sit as the Star Spangled Banner was sung – not by some random contest-winning karaoke singer off the streets, but by the 82nd Airborne Division’s “All-American” Chorus!
I have always lived by the motto, taken from the old 1970 hit by JD. South, Walk A Mile In My Shoes. My parents taught me to withhold judgment on people without knowing what makes them who they are.
Part of the lyrics go, “Walk a mile in my shoes, Yeah, before you abuse, criticize and accuse, Walk a mile in my shoes.” I am a middle-aged, middle-class, Caucasian male, who hasn’t dealt with much racism. I didn’t grow up as a mixed-race minority in Texas like Evans did. I didn’t have to lose my father to a murder by my uncle as a nine-year old. I have no idea what Evans had had to deal with in his life, therefore I would never judge him or his political beliefs.
However, I also have a right to my opinion, and believe he chose the wrong way to voice his displeasure over the election of Donald Trump. And thousands of Bucs fans also felt, Evans went about it the wrong way in my opinion. Especially after it was revealed he may not of even voted in this year’s presidential election.
And now obviously Evans himself realizes he could have went about it in a different and more respectful way.
I applaud Evans for his statement that was released on Tuesday morning.
“I want to start by apologizing to all the U.S. military members, their families, and the fans who I offended by my actions on Sunday. It was never my intention as I have tremendous respect for the men and women who serve our country. I have very strong emotions regarding some of the many issues that exist in our society today. I chose to sit as an expression of my frustration towards this year’s election. It was very personal for me, as it was for so many Americans. With that being said, I will not sit again during the National Anthem because I want to focus my efforts on finding more effective ways to communicate my message and bring about change by supporting organizations and movements that fight for equal rights for minorities. This Sunday, I will be back to standing with my teammates.”
Evans is as fine a young man as you meet inside the Bucs locker room. He’s quiet, friendly and humble. Despite being one of the NFL’s best at his position, Evans is as polite to the janitors at One Buc as he is to one of the Glazers. There is no sense of entitlement, no air of superiority, just a good, young man, husband and father.
Which leads me to another point. The thing that disturbed me the most about the feedback about Evans’ decision to sit for the National Anthem, was the number of people who contacted me directly to tell me they will no longer support Evans, the Bucs and even the NFL. Even if you have lost respect for Evans as a person based on his political view and his decision to not stand on Sunday, why should you punish the other 52 players on the active roster? Why punish the organization who spends a ton of money in donations and does so much for the local military at Mac Dill Air Force Base here in Tampa? Why punish the entire locker room for the actions of one?
I found it ironic that many who were criticizing Evans and then lumping all NFL players in one basket because of the action of a few, are the same ones who detest those who protest all police officers because of the actions of a few bad cops. Pot meet kettle.
Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Mark Lomoglio/PR
Some called the Bucs and the NFL a bunch of overpaid punks. The word thug was tossed around, and make no mistake there is, at the very least a hint of veiled racism in that word. Are there entitled spoiled brats who make bad decisions in some NFL locker rooms? You bet. But guess what? Look around your office, your church, your civic club or any place where several gather and you’ll find the same thing. Of course they aren’t on a national stage, so they don’t draw the attention that professional athletes do.
I see the good that many of these Buccaneer players do. I saw Vincent Jackson spend 15 minutes with a friend of mine who is a retired military member battling cancer after a hot training camp practice last August. I saw quarterback Jameis Winston personally go over and shake hands with the military members of the field prior to the game on Sunday. I have seen the Bucs players who shave their heads and make personal financial contributions to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation each June.
And I witnessed Evans literally drop to his knees with painful cramps after a training camp practice while signing autographs for fans. And you know what he did after a few minutes? He went back to signing autographs until the horn sounded for the players to go back in the facility to complete their day. Yes, that same Mike Evans who many wanted the Bucs to cut or suspend.
And those are just a handful of the things that get reported. I know of many other random acts of kindness that Bucs players have done that they have asked not to be reported.
I disagree completely with Evans’ platform that he used to make a political statement, but as some veterans who actually came out in support of Evans, and even Colin Kaepernick, have said, their sacrifices made it possible to live in a country where people are free to protest. Even if we don’t agree.
On a personal note, growing up there was a sepia-toned framed photo that hung on the living room wall of my Granny Cook’s house, the one I live in today, and am sitting in as I write this. It was of a fine, strapping young man, smiling, alive in his prime. I remember asking her as a child who it was. She explained it was my grandfather’s brother who was drafted late during WWII and who had died during the war in Germany.
Not much was ever discussed about my Uncle Odell, as you could tell even after all those years, the pain was great. After my grandmother died in 1995, I was going through the old family Bible and found a letter written in pencil from my uncle. It was dated April 13, 1945. Enclosed was a small cut out piece of newspaper announcing he was killed on April 21, 1945. The Germans surrendered seven days later. The family undoubtedly received his letter weeks after they found out he had died.
Private Odell Cook’s Purple Heart and dog tags – Photo: Mark Cook/PR
My tears fell as I folded it all back up and placed it back in the Bible. An overwhelming sense of pride welled up in me, so now when the National Anthem is played, and even if we are home in front of our televisions, we stand. My son thinks I am crazy. But that’s okay. It’s personal to me.
My great Uncle Odell died protecting the freedoms we all benefit from, and those include Evans, Kaepernick or any person in this country who chooses not to stand for the National Anthem or who chooses to march in protest of civil rights inequality or even disagreement with who was elected president. We don’t have to agree, but those rights were protected by the blood of many, including my Uncle Odell B. Cook.
I have somewhat strayed from my original intent and that was to ask Bucs fans who disagreed with Evans to chalk up his decision as one of youthful indiscretion. I think in time he’ll regret the manner in which he protested – and that’s not to deny him his reason to protest or the right to protest.
Let’s forgive and forget, and try to think back to where where our minds were when we were 23 years old.
Evans is a good guy, a great football player and by all accounts a terrific father and husband. Bucs fans should be proud to have a player of Evans character, and talent on their team. Even if they disagreed with his stance last Sunday.
“Before you abuse, criticize and accuse, Walk a mile in my shoes.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at email@example.com
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