August 14, 2017 at 8:49 AM
While his teammates stood and locked arms on the sideline as the national anthem played before Sunday’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Carson, Calif., Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett sat alone on the bench. Bennett’s act came one day after his former teammate, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, sat on a cooler during the national anthem before a preseason game against the Cardinals.
Bennett spoke about his decision to sit during the national anthem after the Seahawks’ 48-17 win.
“With everything that’s been going on the last couple of months, and especially after the last couple of days seeing everything in Virginia, seeing everything that’s going on out there, and earlier today in Seattle, I just wanted to be able to use my platform to be able to continuously speak on injustice,” Bennett said.
Bennett, whose father, Michael Bennett Sr., served in the Navy, added that he wasn’t taking a stand against the military.
“First of all, I want to make sure people understand, I love the military,” Bennett said. “My father was in the military. 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 slandering. I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve. I want to be able to use this platform to continuously push the message of that, keep journeying out and keep finding out how unselfish can we be as a society. How can we continuously love one another and understand that people are different? And just because they’re different doesn’t mean you shouldn’t like them. Just because they don’t smell the way you smell, just because they don’t eat what you eat, just because they don’t pray to the same God you pray to, that doesn’t mean you should hate them. Whether it’s Muslim, whether it’s Buddhist, whether it’s Christianity, whatever it is, I just want people to understand that, no matter what, we’re in this thing together. It’s more about being a human being at this point.”
Bennett said he made the decision to sit during the national anthem on his own and plans to continue to do so. He hopes the gesture can “activate everybody to get off their hands and feet and go out to the communities and push helping each other.”
Seattle Coach Pete Carroll said he didn’t know until after the game that Bennett wasn’t standing with his teammates.
“I really haven’t even had a chance to think about it,” Carroll said when asked for his reaction. “I heard it walking in the door, so I’ll let you know later.”
Like Lynch, who didn’t speak publicly about his move after Saturday’s game, the outspoken Bennett has been a vocal supporter of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who faced criticism for kneeling during pregame renditions of the national anthem last season to protest racial injustice and police brutality.
Kaepernick opted out of the final year of his contract with the 49ers in March, knowing that he would’ve been released by the team he led to the Super Bowl in 2013 if he hadn’t elected to do so, and he remains without a job. Many, including Bennett, believe Kaepernick’s protests are the reason he’s still a free agent.
“Of course he’s being blackballed,” Bennett said on a New York radio station in June. “Nobody likes race and politics in sports. I think that’s one of those things that nobody wants to talk about, and for him to bring race and politics in sports, I think it struck a lot of people the wrong way. … You watch the people that really watch football, it’s middle America, and the people that buy tickets to the game aren’t really African American people, and for him to bring that into that crowd was one thing that people felt like shouldn’t have been there.”
Bennett, who is co-authoring a book titled “How To Make White People Uncomfortable” and met up with Kaepernick at the quarterback’s Know Your Rights Camp in June, campaigned for the Seahawks to sign Kaepernick to back up Russell Wilson this offseason. Seattle signed Austin Davis instead.
Bennett said Sunday he expects to face criticism for his decision, like Kaepernick.
“Of course I’m going to face backlash,” Bennett said. “This is bigger than me, this is bigger than football. This is about people, this is about bringing opportunities to people, giving people equality. This is bigger than a sport. At the end of the day, you can’t take your accolades with you, but what you can do is leave a legacy that you can give kids to seize to be able to inspire. I don’t look at myself as a role model, I look at myself as trying to inspire young children and young people of different genders, whatever they are, to want to change their environment and continuously push whatever they think is right.”
Lynch was out of the NFL last season, but was asked about Kaepernick’s protests during an interview with Conan O’Brien in September.
“My take on it is, [stuff], it got to start somewhere and if that was the starting point, I just hope people open up their eyes and see that it’s really a problem going on and something needs to be done for it to stop,” Lynch said. “If you really not racist, then you won’t see what [Kaepernick is] doing as a threat to America, but just addressing a problem that we have.”