Pete Carroll has long been known as a players’ coach, and he said Tuesday that while he was taken by surprise by Michael Bennett’s decision to sit during the national anthem, he supported his defensive end. However, Carroll also made it clear that he does not agree with those who would stage protests during renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“When it comes to it, I love our country and I think we should all stand for the opportunities when the flag is represented,” Carroll told reporters at the Seahawks’ training facility in Renton, Wash. “But the fact that his heart is in a great place, and he’s gonna do great work well after the time he’s with us, it’s easy for me to support him in his issues.
“But I think we should all be standing up when we’re playing the national anthem.”
Bennett was the only Seattle player who remained on the bench before a preseason game Sunday against the Chargers in Carson, Calif. “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,” the 31-year-old player said afterward.
Bennett was among a handful of NFL players who staged anthem protests during the first round of preseason games. Others included the Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch and the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins, the latter by raising his fist, and Bennett and Jenkins have said they plan to continue doing so.
Last year, Colin Kaepernick’s pregame protests of racial injustice inspired many players, in football and other sports, to emulate his example, and Bennett has been a prominent supporter of the former 49ers quarterback. Bennett said in May that Seattle would be “a perfect place” for Kaepernick, but the Seahawks declined to sign the quarterback, who remains a free agent amid widespread suspicions that he is being blackballed by the NFL for his activism.
“I always looked up to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, John Carlos,” Bennett told Yahoo Sports in a story published Tuesday. “All these guys do so much.
“Now I look at Colin Kaepernick and all these people who do so much in the community and raising the bar of what we can do as athletes and what we can do as people. Do we forget our story and our journey and recreate who we are? Or do we connect our story to where we are now to be able to give other kids opportunities?”
Carroll said Sunday that he didn’t know Bennett had sat during the anthem until after the game, and he told the media Tuesday that “we hadn’t adjusted going in.” Asked about the team’s reaction to further protests, the 65-year-old coach said, “We will see.
“This is a very connected football team, and everybody is really here to do something special and to do it together, and so whatever happens from this point forward we will be working on it and we’ll see where it goes.”
Carroll noted that he and Bennett have “talked a couple of times” since Sunday, and that they have been “spending time working on stuff on and off the field for quite some time, and in great depth.” He said that the two-time Pro Bowler “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,” Carroll said. “He has really turned his focus to doing good work and helping people and doing everything he can for things that he thinks where he can help, so I support the heck out of his concerns and his issues and all that.”
Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said that he would “absolutely” consider joining Bennett in sitting during the anthem, but he added that the players would discuss it and try to come to a team-wide decision. Last year, Seattle players stood and linked arms during anthems as a show of unity and concern.
The Seahawks again stood with their arms linked together Sunday, except for Bennett. Baldwin, though, said of his teammate’s lone protest (via the Seattle Times), “I know Mike obviously as a teammate and as a person, and it comes from a good place, and I thought he did an excellent job of kind of prefacing it in his response after the game, and I was really proud of it.”
“Mike has always been one of those leaders in our locker room. We trust him,” Baldwin said. “Again, he’s a highly, highly intelligent individual, who didn’t just make this decision off the cuff. This is a decision that, I know, knowing Mike, that he’s taken a lot of time and pride in making. So as a family within this organization, we fully support what he’s done.”
“I’ve been thinking about sitting during the national anthem for a minute, especially after everything that’s been happening the last couple weeks,” Bennett told Yahoo Sports. “It’s just been so crazy right now, and I felt like the conversation wasn’t over. I felt like this needed to be a continuous thing that’s going on. I know it offends a lot of people, that’s why I kept it straightforward. I love America, I love hot dogs, I love everything about it.
“I thought about it right up to the beginning of the game, and finally decided not to stand because it just felt right.”