Michael Bennett and other athletes, including the WNBA’s Brittney Griner and Breanna Stewart, as well as Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, are calling on the NFL to sign Colin Kaepernick. In a statement issued Wednesday by a Bennett-led group called Athletes for Impact, they said, “No one should be denied employment for having the courage to follow their convictions and take action for equality and social justice.”
“Join me and many others to get Colin Kaepernick signed!” Bennett, a Seahawks defensive end, said on Twitter. Kaepernick has been a free agent since parting ways with the 49ers in March, and many believe he is being deliberately shunned by the NFL for being the first in the league last season to stage protests during the national anthem.
The 30-year-old Kaepernick has filed a grievance against the NFL for colluding to deny him employment, and attorneys for the quarterback are seeking to obtain depositions from several team owners, as well as Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Every day that goes by and he doesn’t get signed is another nail in the NFL’s defense,” one of the attorneys, Mark Geragos, told The Post’s Mark Maske earlier this month.
Bennett’s group, which also includes former Olympian John Carlos, famous for raising a black-gloved fist on the medal podium during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, is seeking to harness people power on behalf of Kaepernick. Other Athletes for Impact campaigns include initiatives on gun safety, mass incarceration, police violence, LGBTQ rights, immigration and climate change.
In its statement Wednesday, the group traced a tradition of athletes protesting social injustice back to the 1960s, then through the 1996 anthem protests of former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and demonstrations last year by WNBA players, before Kaepernick began sitting, then kneeling, during renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” ahead of preseason games. “Kaepernick was clear in live interviews and in writing about the intentions of his protest,” the group said, “stating time and time again the specific reasons for his demonstration, and that it was not intended to disrespect the military but start a national conversation and action around issues of injustice.”
“It is now clear that because of his courage and willingness to speak truth to power, Kaepernick has not been signed by any NFL team,” the statement claimed. “As Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett said of Kaepernick, ‘If you look at the quarterbacks in the NFL right now, out of the backups, I can’t name one better than him …’
“Legendary athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Tommy Smith and John Carlos were disparaged by many in their day for using their platform to speak out against racism and injustice. Today, their statues stand proudly in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and they are widely celebrated as truth tellers ahead of their time. It is time we start celebrating our truth tellers from the start.”
Bennett was among the first NFL players to stage anthem demonstrations this season. Including the preseason, he has sat on a bench on Seattle’s sideline during the anthem before every game except two. Earlier this month, he stood along with every Seahawks player while the host Arizona Cardinals celebrated their “Salute to Service” night, and before an October game they all stood to honor the victims of the Las Vegas mass shooting.
After Goodell said last month that his league believes “everyone should stand” for the anthem but would not force players to do so, Bennett said, “I plan on sitting down.” With talks occurring between the NFL and its players about how to negotiate an end to the protests, the two-time Pro Bowler said at the time, “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.
“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,” Bennett added.
Last week, Geragos disputed a claim by an NFL spokesman that Kaepernick’s camp had not responded to an offer from the league for the quarterback to have a one-on-one meeting with Goodell. The attorney said Kaepernick “would be happy to attend” a meeting with the commissioner but that the presence of a mediator would be required because of the grievance the quarterback has filed.
In its statement, Athletes for Impact said, “We call on all NFL owners, general managers and coaches with a positional need to summon the courage to sign Colin Kaepernick and to stand with us on the right side of history.”
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