Protest timing during Salute to Service game bad, Bucs' Evans says

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans admitted Wednesday that he should have thought through the timing of his protest of President-elect Donald Trump a bit better. He sat during the national anthem during the Bucs' annual Salute to Service game on Sunday, a day honoring active, reserve, retired and veteran service members. He said he never, ever meant to hurt them.

"If I had to do it over again, I would have done it differently, but I would still use my platform to help," said Evans, one day after changing course and announcing that he would be standing with his teammates during the anthem from now on. He originally said that as long as Trump was president-elect he would not be participating in the national anthem. "It was the Salute to Service game ... looking back on it, I probably would have do it a different way."

"It hits home for a lot of people. This city of Tampa is big in the military," Evans said. "I know I hurt a lot of people by doing what I did. I want to apologize again to the people who were really affected by what I did, and to the people who are disappointed in my decision to stand with my teammates: don't worry. From now on, I'm gonna continue to use my voice and my platform for minorities' rights and I'm gonna continue to help the minority."

Evans' protest was met with a backlash on social media and in the Tampa Bay community, home to MacDill Air Force Base and over 12,000 active military members. Some fans threatened to boycott not just the Bucs but the NFL. One fan even burned his Evans jersey and posted video of it on Facebook. Evans admitted he expected some of the backlash, which also included criticism because he did not vote. Evans said he attempted to but because he is registered in Texas and not Florida, he learned he was unable to. "I won't make that mistake again."

"Some people were saluting me. Some people were showing a lot of evil and a lot of hate. That's the problem that I have and that's the reason I did what I did, said Evans, who is bi-racial and revealed in an E:60 documentary this year that his mother, who had him when she was 14 and raised him, was the victim of domestic violence. He grew up in Galveston, Texas, which has a Hispanic population of 31 percent. Trump was highly criticized during his campaign for his previous remarks about women and his policies regarding Hispanics immigrating to the U.S.

He admitted point-blank that he encountered his own share of racism on social media as the result of his protest.

"I'm half black and half white. I'm multi-cultured. I don't believe people should feel that way about other people because we're all human beings," Evans said. "The way people grow up, it shapes the way they think, the way they do certain things. I grew up mixed by-relation -- white, Hispanic and black. I feel all people are equal."

He also admitted that it felt weird to him not to be standing with his teammates Sunday for something he used to look forward to every time he played.

"As a kid, man, I used to love standing for the national anthem. I still do love standing for the national anthem because I think of our troops, but most importantly, I think of the American population as a whole and I think of our leader, who our leader is. There's gonna be some foggy area there but I will stand."

Evans' teammates came to his defense Wednesday.

Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald's grandfather served in the Korean War, his father was an Air Force engineer in the Vietnam War, his uncle is a Vietnam veteran and his brother is in the active duty in the Air Force. He, too, supports Evans' right to express himself even though he wasn't aware of his protest at the time it occurred.

"Mike is a good friend of mine, he's my teammate, and he's always going to be like that. I'm going to support him regardless of what he does," McDonald said. "This country fights for freedoms, freedoms such as kneeling, of speaking out about whatever you want to do. They're also fighting for standing up and putting your hand over your heart. Those are the same freedoms we uphold. Everybody has their voice of opinion."

Quarterback Jameis Winston also chimed in. "I talked to him about it. I'm definitely on his side. I respect his beliefs," said Winston. "Mike is a standup guy -- one of the greatest guys on this football team. What he does on the field, what he does off the field, just the type of man he is -- it speaks for itself."

Evans, who is currently tied with Jordy Nelson for the most touchdowns among receivers in the NFL, will try to shift his focus to on the field and playing the Kansas City Chiefs this week, but not lose sight of his beliefs.

"On the field, I'm going to continue to do what I do -- play hard. I'm playing hard because I've got this right -- freedom, because of the vets," Evans said. "I'm going to reach out to organizations, organizations that I feel are doing the best job to help the minority ... women, LGBT, African Americans, Latinos, people that are in fear of Donald Trump and his presidency."