Roger Goodell announced Wednesday that while the NFL could not agree on a policy mandating that players stand during the national anthem, the commissioner’s league believes “everyone should stand” for it. Later in the day, the Seahawks’ Michael Bennett said he would continue to sit during pregame renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” adding that any negotiation about player conduct during the anthem should take place after Colin Kaepernick is signed by a team.
“I plan on sitting down,” Bennett said at Seattle’s practice facility in Renton, Wash. “Like I said, I’ll continue to do what I’ve been doing. The consequences are the consequences.”
Bennett, who has been among the NFL’s most outspoken players on issues of racial injustice, has sat on a bench on the Seahawks’ sideline during the anthem for all of the team’s preseason games and all but two of its regular season contests thus far. The exceptions came in Week 3, when all the Seattle players stayed in the locker room during the anthem following particularly sharp criticism by President Trump, and in Week 5, when the entire team stood in honor of the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
The 31-year-old defensive end did not attend the NFL owners meetings in New York over the past two days, as some players did, because the Seahawks had practice Tuesday. Thirteen players and 11 owners gathered with union and league representatives Tuesday to discuss how to resolve the impasse over the refusal of some players to stand during the anthem.
Trump has applied tremendous pressure on the league to create a rule forcing all players to stand, but while Giants co-owner John Mara said Wednesday he has “asked our players to stand,” he added, “at the end of the day, this is America, and we do have a thing called the First Amendment. And it’s a right of free speech and a right to protest. That’s one of the things our forefathers fought and died for, and that continues to be a principle that’s very important to most of us.”
“I understand what our fans feel about this issue,” Goodell said. “And we feel the same way about the importance of our flag, about the importance of patriotism. And I believe our players feel that way.”
Bennett said he had spoken with players who attended the New York meetings, and he emphasized the importance of Kaepernick getting a contract offer. The former 49ers quarterback began the protests during the anthem last year, inspiring other NFL players and athletes in other sports, but he has remained a free agent since March amid widespread speculation that he is essentially being blackballed by the league.
“I think the first step to even being able to even have a conversation is to make sure that Colin Kaepernick gets an opportunity to play in the NFL,” Bennett said (via Pro Football Talk). “I think before we even negotiate anything about whether we sit or whether we stand should be a negotiation about opening up the doors for Colin Kaepernick and give him an opportunity again, because I feel like through everything that’s been lost, I think all of us are having opportunities to be able to speak to our employers, but to think about the guy who started everything not to be able to have a voice at this moment, it just doesn’t seem very right to me.”
Kaepernick filed a grievance against the league Sunday, alleging that NFL teams have colluded to keep him out of the league. That could complicate his possible signing, but Bennett said bringing the quarterback back to the league is “something that needs to be on the table.”
Bennett also took issue with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’s claim that any Dallas player who failed to stand for the anthem would get benched. “If teams don’t want guys to play, even if you think about what Jerry Jones said, it’s crazy,” the lineman said (via CBS Sports).
“It’s inconsiderate of a person being a human being. To me, I just thought it reminded me of the Dred Scott case,” Bennett continued. “You’re property, so you don’t have the ability to be a person first.
“And I think in this generation that sends the wrong message to young kids and young people across the world: that your employer doesn’t see you as a human being; they see you as a piece of property.”
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