Seahawks players should let individuals decide whether to join teammate Michael Bennett, who sat during the anthem before Sunday’s preseason game and said he plans to continue doing so this season.
Weightlifting, film study, scrimmaging — all things you do as a team. Same goes for post-practice meals, victory celebrations and daily locker-room banter.
But if we’re talking about what to do while the Star Spangled Banner plays before a game, sorry — that’s not a team thing. That choice should be completely up to the individual.
On Tuesday afternoon, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin fielded a series of Michael Bennett-related questions while speaking with reporters. He said he supported Bennett’s decision to sit during the national anthem before Sunday’s exhibition game, then implied he might join him in the future.
And though some might label such an act as unpatriotic, I’d give Doug the benefit of the doubt given his extensive work with police and interaction with the community. I did, however, wonder about this particular response.
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“If we do things, we try to do things as a team, as a family,” Baldwin said when asked about joining Bennett on the bench. “We’ll see how we can support Mike in this situation.”
In theory, this sounds like compassion personified. One Seahawk makes himself vulnerable, then his teammates swoop in to show he isn’t alone.
The problem is, sitting out the anthem isn’t like lying in a hospital bed after enduring a crushing hit. It’s possible — probable, even — that a slew of Seahawks have no sympathy for these protests.
There’s a reason these anthem demonstrations have become the most hotly debated subject in sports. One side sees sitting as a necessary action in the face of social inequality, and the other sees it as a rejection of American values.
I don’t want to weigh in on who’s right or who’s wrong, because frankly, I think both arguments have merit. But I do know there are intelligent, well-meaning people on both ends of the debate.
Last September, just days before Seattle’s regular-season opener, there was a lot of intrigue centered around what the Seahawks would do when the anthem came on. The team, after all, was comprised of some of the most outspoken athletes in sports, and many had expressed their support of Colin Kaepernick.
The result? A “demonstration of unity,” in which every player on the roster locked arms while standing up. And though it was a nice gesture, I can’t help wonder if it was also a compromise.
I can’t imagine that everyone in that locker room agreed on what the appropriate action would be. I would bet that some wanted to take a bolder stance, and others were horrified at the idea of protesting.
But that’s also why this is one where you don’t want to force everyone on the team to be on the same page. Because it’s doubtful there’s a page they all want to be on.
Whether you agree with Bennett’s views or actions, it’s hard to deny he is trying to make a difference. His involvement in the community — locally and internationally — has earned him the credibility to protest, as has his explanation for doing so. A team-wide decision to stand during the anthem might save a few fans, but it would also upset supporters of Bennett who think he’s implementing change.
At the same time, a team-wide decision that universally supports Bennett might cause some friction in the locker room — and not just due to players who staunchly oppose protesting, but from those who don’t want to mix politics and football whatsoever. Remember what Earl Thomas said after last year’s demonstration of unity?
“It just kinda knocked our work week off,” Thomas said. “We had a big meeting, and it was so dramatic, and you kinda get out of football mode.”
It’s hard to look at people such as Bennett and Baldwin and not admire their passion. They’re not just looking for attention — they truly believe it’s their responsibility to use their platform to serve the greater good.
But this is a tricky topic — and nobody should feel pressured to do something they feel uncomfortable with. Strange as it might sound, when it comes to protesting, seeking team unity could lead to a divide.