Michael Bennett, who has vowed to continue sitting during the national anthem, would like to see other NFL players join him in similar protests of racial and social injustice. Specifically, the Seahawks defensive end would like to see a white player join him.
“It would take a white player to really get things changed,” Bennett said on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Wednesday, “because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it, it would change the whole conversation. Because you bring somebody who doesn’t really have to be a part of the conversation, making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a big jump.”
Asked why he decided to stage his protest, which caught Seahawks officials, including Coach Pete Carroll, by surprise before a preseason game Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers, Bennett pointed to the events in Charlottesville.
“Over the weekend, so much violence, so much hate,” Bennett told the ESPN hosts. “I just wanted to remember why we were American citizens, remember the freedom, the liberty and the equality, make sure we never forget that. I really wanted to honor that, the founding principles of what we’re all supposed to be.
“Charlottesville was so crazy, things happened in Seattle, so much going on in the world now, it just made sense.”
Noting that “there are so many kids who are looking up to us,” Bennett posited that in the same way companies rely on athletes to help “sell their products,” those athletes could “sell the thought processes of freedom … and equality.” He added, “When we inspire kids, don’t inspire them just to be athletes, but inspire them to be change-makers, to change their society, change the people around them and change their communities.”
Other NFL players who protested during the first week of preseason action included the Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch, the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins and the Rams’ Robert Quinn, the latter two by raising their fists during pregame renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Last season, when several athletes, in football and other sports, emulated the example of then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, no white NFL players followed suit, and it remains to be seen how things unfold in Week 2 of the preseason and beyond.
Bennett’s comments Wednesday echoed some he made almost a year ago, when Kaepernick’s anthem protests sparked an occasionally heated national debate. Bennett, whose brother Martellus, then a tight end for the Patriots, raised a fist before a game, said at the time, “You need a white guy to join the fight.”
“For people to really see social injustices, there must be someone from the other side of the race who recognizes the problem,” he added (via the Seattle Times), “because a lot of times if just one race says there’s a problem, nobody is realistic about it.”
“If somebody like, say, Aaron Rodgers got behind us, I think it would touch home for a lot more people,” Seattle’s Cliff Avril said in September. “At the same time, I see why they probably wouldn’t, because they don’t know what we’re going through. That’s one of those situations where it’s unfortunate.”
Carroll said Tuesday that Bennett’s “heart is in a great place, and … it’s easy for me to support him in his issue.” However, the coach went on to note, “I think we should all be standing up when we’re playing the national anthem.”
Asked on ESPN what sort of conversations had taken place in the Seahawks’ locker room since he chose to remain seated Sunday, Bennett said, “I think a lot of players understand the story, understand the process and understand my purpose and what I believe in. I think guys understand that … this is truly who I am, this is truly what my passion is, this is truly what my message is, and I think guys respect that.”
Bennett, whose father served in the Navy, said that the most “touching” moment he had recently experienced occurred Wednesday, when military members visiting the Seahawks’ training facility in Renton, Wash., gave him hugs and medallions and told him “they believed in me, and they trust that the thing that I’m doing is the right thing.”
“That made me very emotional, to know that people make this divide, like I’m trying to disrespect the military, and here, military soldiers are coming and talking to me and that they’re saying this is what they’re fighting for, the equality and freedom of people,” he said. “It just touched my heart.”
Bennett has been an outspoken supporter of Kaepernick, and he openly campaigned for his Seahawks to bring aboard the quarterback, who remains unsigned. Seattle was the only NFL team known to have expressed interest in Kaepernick, but it passed on him in favor of the unheralded Austin Davis, leaving other players to ponder what Bennett described as his friend’s “sacrifice.”
“He spoke up and dealt with a lot of things that were going on — from death threats, people not wanting him in the stadium, people hating him,” Bennett said of Kaepernick (via ESPN). “I think a lot of players were scared of that. Then on top of that, players feeling like he was being blackballed, people were eventually scared.
“But now, just because he’s out of the league, we didn’t want to lose that message, pushing for liberty and equality for everybody, we just wanted to keep that message alive.”