RENTON -- When Jeremy Lane decided to sit for the national anthem prior to the final preseason game in Oakland last August, the Seahawks rallied together and elected to deliver a showing of "unity" by locking arms and standing for the anthem the rest of the season.
While that same stance carried into Sunday's preseason game in Los Angeles against the Chargers, defensive end Michael Bennett elected to remain seated on the bench instead of standing for The Star-Spangled Banner.
Like Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit, then kneel, for the anthem last season with the San Francisco 49ers, Bennett's hope to bring attention to inequality and social injustice in America. The decision by Bennett was solidified with the violence-laden incidents in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend that were tinged with white supremacist rhetoric and demonstrations.
“First of all I want to make sure people understand I love the military — my father was in the military,” Bennett said, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times. “I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation, I don’t love riots, I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve and I want to be able to use this platform to continuously push the message and keep finding out how unselfish we can be in society, how we can continuously love one another and understand that people are different. And just because people are different doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t like them. Just because they don’t eat what you eat, just because they don’t pray to the same God you pray to doesn’t mean you should hate them. Whether it is Muslim, whether it is Buddhist, whether it is Christianity, I just want people to understand that no matter what, we need to stay together. It’s more about being a human being at this point.”
The protest engaged by Bennett is meant to make people uncomfortable in the hope it sparks further discussion and progress. Bennett kept his intentions to himself as head coach Pete Carroll and his teammates were unaware of his plans.
Carroll said he supports Bennett and praised his efforts in communities as a humanitarian. However, he did say he believed Bennett should stand for the anthem.
"Michael has really dedicated the last few years of his life to try to understand what's going on around the world," Carroll said. "He's traveled everywhere to try and understand people's issues and concerns and it's really captured his heart and he is really turned his focus to doing good work and helping people and doing everything he can where he can help. I support the heck out of his concerns and his issues and all that.
"I love our country and I think we should all stand for the opportunity when the flag is represented but the fact that his heart is in a great place and he's going to do great work well after the time he's with us and it's easy for me to support him in that and his issues, but I think we should all be standing up when we play the national anthem."
Receiver Doug Baldwin played an integral role in getting the team to participate in the locked arms expression for the anthem last year. With a father who is in law enforcement, Baldwin was measured in his desire to show support for Kaepernick's stance without angering a portion of the populace. He was supportive of Bennett's decision as well.
“I have known Mike obviously as a teammate, a person and I know his heart and it comes from a good place," Baldwin said. "I thought he did an excellent job of prefacing it in his response after the game. “I was really proud of it. I think that we as a society should be proud. I think we take for granted the fact that we have freedom of speech. I think we should be proud of individuals who feel strongly about certain topics and certain situations that are happening in our country and are willing to put themselves out and be vulnerable about it.”
Because it's a large discussion and deserves full context, all of Carroll and Baldwin's comments on Bennett's decision are listed below.
(have you talked with Michael Bennett about his protest?) "Yeah, we have visited and talked a couple times already. Michael and I go way back. We've had a long time together. We've been spending time working on stuff on and off the field for quite some time and in great depth. Michael has really dedicated the last few years of his life to try to understand what's going on around the world. He's traveled everywhere to try and understand people's issues and concerns and it's really captured his heart and he is really turned his focus to doing good work and helping people and doing everything he can where he can help. I support the heck out of his concerns and his issues and all that. When it comes to it, I love our country and I think we should all stand for the opporunity when the flag is represented but the fact that his heart is in a great place and he's going to do great work well after the time he's with us and it's easy for me to support him in that and his issues, but I think we should all be standing up when we play the national anthem."
(what advice did you give him? "We talked a lot about all that's going to come to him and listened very carefully to people's perspective and stay very true and be very much in the middle so he doesn't get captured one way or the other by somebody else's concerns, somebody else's issues. So I'll continue to support him and help in every way. We'll visit regularly and hopefully help him make sense of all of the things that come his way."
(tell you he'll continue?) "No, he did not say that to me."
(on if this stance meshes with their unity showing last year) "We have talked about that. We talked about it a lot last year in particular and this was a little bit of a surprise. I didn't know it was coming so we hadn't addressed it going in, so we'll see. This is a very connected football team and everybody is really come here to do something special and to do it together, so whatever happens from this point forward, we'll be working on it and we'll see where it goes."
(unintended consequences?) "Cause you don't know. You don't know what's going to come your way and that's what I was talking and cautioning Mike about is listening very carefully and understanding who is tugging at him and who isn't and all that. But Mike's heart is in such a great place. He has done so much work to try to understand where he can help and he is doing marvelous things in our community here and he's been overseas, he's been to Africa, he's been to Haiti. He's spent time in the Badlands in Native American communities so he can understand. He's done a lot more work than most people would ever be able to do in a lifetime in trying to understand where he can help and what he could possibly do. He's a very unique person and a really amazing guy."
(on world view beyond football with this team and if it's traits in players you evaluate) "I think it's a little bit of both. I think we're looking for people who are willing to go forward and take on the great challenges of taking their game and their team as far as they can take it and some people will go along for the ride and other people want to see if they can cause the change. So we do recognize that in some of our guys. We have done this for a long time. We celebrate the uniqueness of our players in every way that we can as well as long as they toe the line and fit in with this football team. We are not scattered in our views. We are not disconnected. We are a very connected group and I think we've demonstrated that over the years but by the same token these are young men that are growing up and they're trying to find their message and their heart and I couldn't support that more. And I think when we do connect with who they are and what they're all about, we can help them go farther. That's a big challenge for me and our coaches and our administration to work to understand our guys and see what we can do. But they've got to roll with us now. There's not any question about that. We're very specific about that and very strict about that so I'm hoping you're seeing the results and whatever. It's this culture, it's the people, it's the coaches, I think it's all of us that contribute to that."
(do you anticipate Bennett will continue sitting?) "I don't know that. I can't tell you right now. I'm not sure.
(do you think others will join him?) "I don't know. We haven't talked about it at all."
(any concern about it?) "I'm not concerned about it. We'll figure it out. Whatever we do will be the right thing for us."
(On Michael Bennett sitting during the national anthem) “Well first and foremost, I know Mike (Bennett), his decision comes from a good place. I have known Mike obviously as a teammate, a person and I know his heart and it comes from a good place. I thought he did an excellent job of kind of prefacing it in his response after the game. I was really proud of him. And I think we, as a society, should be proud. I think we take for granted that in our country we have freedom of speech. I think we should be proud of any individuals who feel strongly about certain topics and certain situations that are happening in our country and are willing to put themselves out and be vulnerable about it and you know, Mike has done that. To further his point, you know, there is things going on in our communities that people don’t agree with. Who am I or who are we to tell individuals that are in these communities that their opinions or their thoughts are wrong. I firmly believe that the purpose and the thought behind everything is to better our society. It’s not to be divisive or to be negative. I fully support Mike and his message and his thoughts and definitely the way he went about it.”
(On if he’s thought about joining Bennett on the bench) “Absolutely. We are going to have a conversation here shortly and again, we try to do things as a team and as a family. We will see how we can support Mike in this situation.”
(On choosing the sitting during anthem platform when it looks negative to fans and others) “If you want to take it that way. It’s freedom of speech again and there’s a lot more I want to say about, but I won’t use this platform in this moment to say it because I have been advised not to. And out of respect for this organization, I will do that. However, I think it’s bigger than that. It is much bigger than that. If your feelings are hurt about a particular situation then maybe you should ask yourself why are my feelings being hurt about this? Why is it so important for somebody who seems to be an intelligent human being, why is it so important for them to get this message across? Why is it so important for them to do it in this fashion and in the particular moment they do it? Why is it so important? I think all of us can ask ourselves those questions and maybe we will be smarter human beings or smarter people of society or smarter society if we do that.”
(On team unity factor with Bennett sitting during that team activity) “I mean if you are asking me if there is an issue with it in the locker room, there is not. Again, we operate as a family. We support our guys in whatever they want to do, whatever endeavors they set out to accomplish or achieve. And Mike has always been one of those leaders in our locker room. We trust him. Again, he is a highly highly intelligent individual who didn’t just make a decision off the cuff. This is a decision, I know that knowing Mike, he has taken a lot of time and pride in making. So as a family within this organization we fully support what he has done.”
(On talking with Marshawn Lynch after he sat) “Yeah I talked to Marshawn.”
(On Lynch’s reasoning being the same as Bennett’s) “You are going to have to ask Marshawn. You know why I am here.”
(On message more heard than it was a year ago) “I definitely think the conversation is definitely being had more frequently. I think that if you just turn on the news, the conversation is being had all over the country. And it is turning into a situation where it doesn’t matter your race, it doesn’t matter your color, it doesn’t matter your heritage, it doesn’t matter your culture, the overwhelming and most profound message is that we claim to have equality and liberty for all people and some people feel that that is not the case. So maybe we should listen to them, maybe we should hear what their thoughts are. And see if we can’t be better. If we think we are perfect, you know the Romans thought they were perfect. I just think we shouldn’t think we are perfect because there is always room for improvement.”
(On concrete and substantial message being delivered on this topic) “I mean just having the conversation is progress. I think that was what the initial effort was to do, was to have this conversation. To bring it to the attention of the country that ‘hey there are things going on in society that aren’t right, that people think aren’t right and we need to have a conversation about it’ and to me that is progress within itself. And yes, you guys know we have talked to a number of different people and I think there are things going on that this will hopefully start to get the ball rolling here soon, but just like anything else it is going to take time.”
(On culture of the organization to be opinionated and speak out in the community and educating themselves on issues in society) “Absolutely. I think there is a lot to be said about the individuals that are already here, like Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett. You know you have these guys that are again, very intelligent human beings and can articulate the way they feel and have a high emotional IQ or EQ, I guess you could say. But they are able to articulate the way they feel, so when young guys come in and they want to express themselves or they don’t know how to express themselves, they can listen to Sherman, they can listen to Mike B. and they have an example. And then, these guys actually ask them questions and so yeah, I think it’s taking into account that John (Schneider) and Pete (Carroll) have done an excellent job of bringing in those types of guys and they have also cultivated this environment that allows guys to feel free and allows them to be vulnerable and you have guys that are willing to speak up because they know this is a safe environment. Even if they are vulnerable, their teammates aren’t going to look at them poorly, we aren’t going to judge them in an unsafe regard and they are going to be supported by the organization. I think definitely the culture that we have definitely lends itself to players being more vocal.”
(On reaction to Charlottesville, VA incident) “I mean how could you not be upset about it, you know. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, it doesn’t matter what the topic is, I really don’t even know what to say. It is a difficult situation to even just fathom and especially still going on in our country today, I mean I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m also very upset about it.”
(On who advised you to not going into detail on his platform) “Just in general. I think in this particular moment, I don’t want to take away from what Mike is doing. He is doing an excellent job of trying to get out a message and I don’t want to take away from that. I want to give Mike the forefront and give him the opportunity to express himself fully before I make any comments based on that."
(On whether the team knew Bennett was going to sit during the national anthem) “Nope and I’m glad he didn’t tell anybody because I think it comes across as- if you know Mike, you know it was very methodical and he took the time evaluate himself. I mean if you look at his response when you guys asked him after the game, obviously he took some time to make sure he was going to prepare this in the right light. I am not surprised by the way he handled it because he handled it in an excellent manner.”(On if he had conversations with Pete Carroll about standing during the National Anthem) “I haven’t. Not yet. We’ll definitely have a conversation though.”
(On if he thinks everybody should stand during the National Anthem) “ I think that everybody has the right to the freedom of speech, right? That’s what our country says, right? We do, right? So yeah, whether you agree with it or not – that’s irrelevant. Individuals have the right to the freedom of speech. We want to talk about somebody taking a stand for something that’s important. Taking a stand, taking a seat for something that they deem important, right? Any quality in our country, injustice in our country, we’re sitting here having a conversation about whether it’s important or not that a guy stands for a National Anthem, or sits, when the topic is inequality or injustice. But yeah, I look in the stands and some of our games both home and away and I see people who are drunk with their hats still on – yelling. How come you guys aren’t talking to them? How come there’s not a discussion about that? This guy is taking a reasonable and peaceful approach to something that I, I mean I don’t know who doesn’t think is valiantly important to our society and the health and wellness of our communities, but yet we’re not talking about people who are in the stands drunk during the National Anthem with their hats still on, yelling at players, cussing during the National Anthem – we’re not talking about that. To me this is – I know you guys are reporters and you’ve got to make a story about something but I just think we’re taking it too far.”(On if it’s important for the team to do stuff together as a whole) “We’re always having these conversations. But again, we have some new guys in here and we want to respect their opinions and their thoughts so again we’ll have these conversations and see what comes out of it.”
(On if he’s worried about fallout because this is a controversial subject) “No. It’s football. It’s football. I appreciate the fans who come out here and they support us but it’s football. We’re not saving lives. We’re not police officers, we’re not doctors, we’re football players first and foremost. If you want to stop watching the game because a guy feels strongly about a very serious topic that’s going on in our society, then that’s your choice. You have the right to freedom of speech. Yeah. If you want to do that – all for it.”
(On if there’s another side to Michael Bennett’s not standing during the National Anthem) “Absolutely. Because you put a spotlight on yourself. Like Mike said at the end of the game. He made himself vulnerable. Now he’s put himself out there and I know what that’s like and sometimes it’s a scary position to be in and to me it is very brave. Especially about a topic that he feels so deeply about, that I feel so deeply about. Injustice and inequality, whether you agree with it or not – that’s irrelevant. Somebody believes something, so I definitely think the way that he approached it was excellent, very methodical but also very brave.”
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks greets defensive end Michael Bennett #72 before an NFL game against the Miami Dolphins at CenturyLink Field on September 11, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)