Carroll said he “thought we did OK” when it came to focusing on football after the Seahawks’ game at Tennessee in September — when they stayed in the locker room during the national anthem to protest social inequalities — but he added that “there was still some aftermath.”

Share story

I’d see it on Twitter, or in the comment section, or sometimes in an impassioned email.

Frustrated Seahawks fans would vent by writing something along the lines of “if this team cared half as much about football as they did politics, they’d be undefeated!”

I generally dismissed the notion, thinking on-the-field excellence and off-the-field action weren’t mutually exclusive. Nobody chides Russell Wilson for his dedication to sick children during his down time, right?

But then I broached the subject with Pete Carroll, who met with the media two days after his team’s season ended in a Week 17 loss to Arizona.

Did any of the extracurricular stuff, such as political or social activism, have an effect on how you guys played?

The ball coach didn’t dismiss it.

“I think it had an effect in the game out there that week in Tennessee,” said Carroll, referring to the day the Seahawks spent hours discussing how they were going to respond to President Donald Trump’s “son of a bitch” comment regarding the protests. “I think that was a different amount of emotional output that occurred before the game, and it looked like it the way we played. It looked like it took its toll.”

Carroll recognized that the prolonged pregame conversation was unavoidable at the time — especially considering the personalities on the team. The Seahawks, who eventually decided to stay in the locker room during the national anthem in Nashville, pride themselves on airing their voices.

But is it possible that mentality drained them of energy or disrupted their focus at other points in the season? According to Carroll, well … it’s tough to say.

Carroll said he “thought we did OK” when it came to focusing on football after the Titans game but added that “there was still some aftermath.”

He said he made himself available to players who wanted to discuss race-related issues, but added that, as the season went on, “guys wanted to stay off the topic” because “it was too draining — it was too deep.”

Remember Earl Thomas’ reaction to the team’s “demonstration of unity” discussion in 2016. Thomas said “it just kinda knocked our workweek off.” Or what about offensive lineman Matt Tobin divulging that there were six white players who did not want to stay in the locker room at Tennessee?

Injuries, penalties, missed field-goal attempts and coaching blunders were the primary culprits in the Seahawks’ disappointing season. But regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, could you at least consider that other factors were at work?

Of course, you could argue that the Seahawks’ activism was worth it, regardless of whether it affected their play or locker-room climate. You could say that if the protests sparked a productive conversation toward mitigating police brutality, or prompted the NFL to pledge $89 million toward charities focusing on social justice and racial equality, there should be no regrets.

And you have to credit Carroll for supporting his players throughout the season and defending them Tuesday. Referencing the police handcuffing Michael Bennett in Las Vegas four months ago, Carroll said “this is real-life stuff that needs to be talked about.”

There were clues, however, suggesting Carroll might like to see the social and political commentary dialed down next season. For instance, while discussing the way his team should “handle (sensitive) topics” going forward, Carroll said, “I would like to keep them in the offseason as best we could.”

Again, don’t read that as Carroll censuring his players’ use of their platforms. He stressed Tuesday that some of these team-wide conversations have been of great value. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for him to worry about the point where dedication turns into distraction.

In terms of social and political discourse, these past two seasons have been the most fascinating and polarizing in NFL history — and the Seahawks have been at the forefront of it. Some admire them for it, others loathe them for it — but nobody can deny the attention they’ve drawn.

With Bennett possibly on his way out of Seattle, though, I have a feeling we might have seen the last of the Seahawks’ pregame demonstrations. And that, I believe, is something Carroll wouldn’t protest.