Dez Bryant taken aback by criticism, says he cares about racial issues

— -- FRISCO, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant never thought a tweet made in a joking fashion about where he would purchase pizza would lead back to the debate about players choosing to take a knee during the national anthem.

While in Oxnard, California, Bryant was asked what he thought about players not standing for the anthem and said, "Whatever they got going on with that, that's them ... I don't really have nothing to say about that."

His response with met with criticism on social media among fans, activists and media, including ESPN's Jemele Hill.

"My whole thing about that whole situation, like, people think that I don't care ... that's crazy," Bryant said Thursday.

Bryant spoke for more than 10 minutes after practice Thursday about the anthem protest and race relations. He said he was not criticizing players who have used the anthem to protest police abuse of minorities or other causes.

"They are free to do what they want," Bryant said. "Hell no, I'm not (criticizing) none of that. Their beliefs are their beliefs. And I'm not saying that it's wrong because they are feeling a certain way. They are supposed to. I'm just saying, I want to lead by example by doing positive. I'm not saying what they are doing is wrong. I just have my ways of going about things."

Before training camp started, Bryant held a barbecue in his hometown of Lufkin, Texas, where more than 1,000 fans showed up. He said he will do more off-field functions during the season as well.

"I feel like, my real response should have been [that] I'm leading by example," Bryant said. "What's happening, being positive toward people, is not meant for everybody to understand. It's never going to be. Everybody is not going to get it. And you've got to be there for the ones who want to get it, who want to understand it, who want positive surrounding them.

"I'm the first to say, my childhood was bad. It was horrible. But I don't live with it on my shoulders. I don't. I try my best to become a better person from it and try to do the exact opposite. That's what I try to show people. That's what I try to show these young kids."

On Wednesday, a Blaze Pizza employee tweeted about a tip she received from Bryant, but said she would still be a fan of the New York Giants. Bryant responded by tweeting he would not go back to that location.

Some, including ESPN's Jemele Hill, took it as an affront that Bryant would make a stand on pizza but not on the national anthem.

"I'll tell you this: [It's] extremely disappointing, because I didn't think it was that serious," Bryant said. "It wasn't. You've got to live. You've got to have fun. You can't be too uptight all the time. I swear to God it was nothing personal when I tweeted that out to that girl. I hope she didn't lose her job. I hope she didn't, just because it's not that serious."

Bryant came from poor circumstances with a teenage mom who spent time in jail and a father who was not always around. After going through difficult times, Bryant believes he is delivering the same message as those who do not stand for the anthem, just in a different way.

"All the pressure I used to feel, I have none. I have no pressure," Bryant said. "I believe who I am. I love who I am. I stand for what I believe. I believe in making people smile, that's what I like. I come from a crazy background. No disrespect to my mom, no disrespect to my dad, [but] what I'm doing, they didn't teach me this, I feel like they will be the first to tell you that. I was able to have a clear page when I was growing, and I got to make decisions at a very early age about who I wanted to be and to show who I really am. I like to see people happy. I think people should enjoy themselves. I think people should live.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If you hate me, OK, you hate me. At least I know. Now I can respect the fact you hate me instead of going behind my back, talking to somebody else about me or doing some other crazy stuff. That's not what I'm about. I've been through a lot of bad situations. I feel like in order to know right, you have to go through things to make a change, not do what everybody else is doing. I'm not talking about all of that stuff that they've got going on. I'm just speaking in general about life, period."