TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter admitted Monday that he was "disappointed" wide receiver Mike Evans chose to sit during the national anthem before Sunday's game to protest Donald Trump's election as president of the United States.
"Yeah, I'm disappointed for that," Koetter said. "I also respect Mike's freedom of speech and freedom of expression."
Koetter said he was adopting the same stance he took when asked in August how he would react if one of his players protested in similar fashion to Colin Kaepernick. He even read the same statement when he addressed the media Monday.
"Believe it or not, we have practiced how to line up for the national anthem. We've worked on it. I don't know if our organization has the right to tell a guy that he needs to do that," Koetter said in his statement. "I would be disappointed if any of our players didn't stand up for the national anthem, personally. I look at that as a salute to the people who have paved the way for us, but at the same time, this is a free country, and I think freedom of speech is something that we all believe in and freedom of expression. That's an individual's choice. That's a fine line there. I would personally be disappointed, but I think it would be hard to enforce that rule."
He also said he supported the statement the Buccaneers put out Sunday night.
"The Buccaneers are deeply committed to the military and honoring the great men and women that have dedicated their lives and have made great sacrifices to insure all the tremendous freedoms we have in this great country," the statement said. "We encourage all members of our organization to respectfully honor our flag during the playing of the national anthem. We also recognize every individual's constitutional right to freedom of speech, which is crucial to the American principles we cherish."
Koetter was not aware that Evans was planning to protest before the game.
"I didn't know about this until after the game," Koetter said. "It didn't come up in front of me in the locker room. By the time I was aware of this, most of the players were showered and mostly gone, and players are off today."
He has not yet spoken to any of the players about it. After the game, Evans and Koetter exchanged text messages, and they plan to talk more Wednesday. He isn't sure if other players will join Evans' protest in the future. Evans said he would continue to protest as long as Trump is the President-elect. Koetter said he'll do his best to minimize any distractions caused by it.
"I hope it doesn't affect our team," Koetter said. "That's something I'll take whatever measures I think are necessary to try to minimize what effect it has on our team. I'm really not sure. This is uncharted water for me. I'm not sure about any of that."
A number of fans have voiced their displeasure on social media and have even threatened to boycott the team, particularly because of the timing of the protest. The day featured a military flyover, a performance of the national anthem by the 82nd Airborne and a halftime enlistment ceremony featuring 180 recruits. Tampa is home to MacDill Airforce Base and more than 12,000 active-duty service members.
Evans emphasized Sunday that his protest was not about the military but was purely about Trump.
"I don't want to disrespect the veterans or anything," Evans said. "The men and women that served this country -- I'm forever indebted to them. But the things that have been going on in America lately, I'm not going to stand for that."