CARSON, Calif. — Seahawks Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett started what he said will be his season-long refusal to stand for the national anthem on Sunday before his team’s preseason victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Bennett, like free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick last season, said his gesture is to raise awareness to racism and intolerance. Bennett did not single out law enforcement or any particular group as someone or something he disagreed with but instead said Americans need to try and bridge prejudices and stop acts of hatred.
“I hope that I can activate everybody to get off their hands and feet and go out into the communities and push helping each other,” he told reporters after Sunday’s game. “Sit down with somebody that’s the opposite sex, sit down with somebody that’s the opposite race, different religion and understand that people are different and go out and join the community and try to change the society, change what you’re a part of. If you don’t like it, keep changing it.”
The racial protests Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., which led to death and injuries, helped foster his decision to sit for the anthem, Bennett said. Yet, this move was clearly not a knee-jerk reaction.
“Charlottesville had a lot to do with it but I think it’s just the journey of who I am as a person. I think everybody has a time where they feel like they need to be who they are and stand up for what they believe in,” Bennett explained.
Bennett has spoken on racial, religious and other political issues for more than a year. He also has held camps, given time and money and supported some of the causes which he has addressed.
Those actions didn’t drive enough attention, which is why Bennett said that he decided to not stand for the playing of the national anthem before games — a gesture that has evoked emotions, supportive and not.
Bennett and several of his Seahawks teammates addressed racial turmoil and other issues throughout last season. Players typically locked arms in solidarity before games during the national anthem, something many did Sunday.
Kaepernick’s decision to not stand for the national anthem before a preseason game last season drew ire and praise but also made him a lightning rod for controversy, which still resounds loudly. Kaepernick has drawn the wrath of politicians, some military, supporters of the armed forces and in particular members of law enforcement — the main target of his protest.
Kaepernick remains unemployed, in part because of the stance he took — a stance that has made him one of the most recognizable athletes in our era. The Seahawks are the only team to bring Kaepernick in for a face-to-face interview this summer but they opted not to sign him.
Bennett said he has nothing against the military and that his stance is to encourage bridge building, not further separation or hate. He said he expects negative backlash but that he feels he must stand up for his beliefs by not standing for the anthem.
“Of course I’m going to face backlash. This is bigger than me. This is bigger than football. This is bigger than anything that we have any different. This is about people. This is about bringing opportunities to people, giving people equality. This is bigger than a sport,” said Bennett.
Coach Pete Carroll said he did not see Bennett sit and he did not know that he would. Bennett said he did not discuss his plan with anyone because he doesn’t want to bring someone into a potential cauldron of controversy. Based on what happened with Kaepernick, that likely will be unavoidable.
Bennett said he did not speak to his former teammate, Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, who did not stand for the playing of the national anthem during Saturday’s loss against the Cardinals. Several Seahawks players did not know if Lynch’s gesture was any type of protest. Some added that he usually did not stand or wasn’t on the field during the national anthem when he played for the team.
Seahawks officials said it was never brought to their attention when Lynch didn’t stand for the national anthem that it was any type of protest.