For the second time this season, Michael Bennett stood during a rendition of the national anthem, before a game against Arizona. The announcer for “Thursday Night Football,” Mike Tirico, explained on the telecast that the Seahawks defensive end did so this time because it was the host Cardinals’ “Salute to Service” night, and Bennett wanted to make clear that his protests have not been aimed at military members.
Bennett has usually sat on a bench on the Seahawks’ sideline during the anthem, an act he has said is meant to raise awareness of and activism against racial injustice. He has been joined by some teammates in recent weeks, but every Seattle player stood Thursday.
Bennett and his teammates also all stood before a game last month, which they said was meant to show support for the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. On Thursday, Tirico told viewers, “Bennett says he stood tonight to honor all members of the military, including his dad, who was in the Navy for a decade.”
Bennett was one of a handful of NFL players, including the Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch and the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins, who staged protests during the anthem when the NFL began preseason play in August. “First of all, I want to make sure people understand, I love the military,” Bennett explained at the time. “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,” he continued. “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.”
The number of NFL players staging protests remained low until Week 3, when over 200 players took a knee during the anthem in reaction to President Trump’s harsh criticism days before at a rally in Alabama, which included using the phrase “son of a bitch.” The protests have dwindled since then, but several other Seahawks defensive linemen had taken to sitting on the bench with Bennett.
The NFL has been in talks with players about how to end the protests, which have drawn the ire of some fans, in addition to Trump. The president has demanded that the league compel all players to stand during the anthem, but in meetings last month, NFL owners decided not to change their policy, which mandates that players be on the sideline but only says that they “should” stand.
Just after those meetings, Bennett said that he would continue to sit during the anthem. He added that “the first step to even being able to even have a conversation” about the protests “is to make sure that Colin Kaepernick gets an opportunity to play in the NFL.”
Kaepernick, who began the protests last season while a member of the 49ers, has been a free agent since March. He recently filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing owners of colluding to keep him out of the league.
In a Seahawks game two weeks ago, Bennett took a knee after sacking Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Seattle linebacker Michael Wilhoite had been kneeling during the anthem but he stood before last week’s game, and he joined his teammates in doing so again Thursday.
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