Since the preseason, Michael Bennett has been staging protests of racial injustice by sitting on the Seahawks’ bench during pregame renditions of the national anthem. On Sunday, the veteran defensive end took a knee — after taking down Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on a first-quarter sack.
Earlier in the season, Bennett raised his fist after a sack, subsequently explaining that he did so to “represent unity or solidarity with oppressed peoples.” His gesture Sunday may have been made in solidarity with Texans players, many of whom took a knee during the anthem before the game.
Houston players, and many others around the NFL, were upset at comments made by team owner Bob McNair at league meetings earlier this month, in which he said, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison.” McNair apologized, and after some Texans walked out of a practice Friday, he met with his team Saturday and issued another statement of regret.
Before Sunday, the Texans had been standing for the anthem all season. The only Houston player who had staged a protest was Duane Brown in September 2016, when he raised his fist during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In recent weeks, Bennett has been joined by several other Seattle defensive linemen in staying on the bench during the anthem. Seahawks linebacker Michael Wilhoite, who had been sitting with those players, took a knee for the second straight week.
At the league meetings, the NFL was unable to come to an agreement on a change to its policy, which allows players to sit or kneel during the anthem. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell emerged from those meetings to say the league believes “everyone should stand” for the anthem, but Bennett said he would continue to refuse to do so.
At that time, Bennett also said that an important step in negotiations between players and the NFL on the anthem issue would involve Colin Kaepernick being signed to a team. The former 49ers quarterback has been a free agent since March, as many believe he is being shunned by team owners for being the first to stage anthem protests last season.
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