When a giant American flag covered nearly every inch of the turf at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks stood and locked arms along the sideline.
Terry Brown needed a minute to collect himself and hold back the tears.
He took his 8-year-old son Colby to the Seahawks opener on a sun-kissed Sunday afternoon knowing team members had planned to make a statement during the national anthem on the 15th anniversary of the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
That day carries painful memories for Brown, an Army veteran and 14-year firefighter for South Pierce Fire and Rescue in Eatonville and Roy.
The Seahawks have won every home opener in the Pete Carroll era, a stretch of seven seasons, and have won eight consecutive home openers overall.
Beat 49ers, 31-6
Won NFC West despite 7-9 record
Beat Cardinals, 13-10
Finished 7-9 and missed playoffs
Beat Cowboys, 27-7
Finished 8-0 at home and went 11-5
Beat 49ers, 29-3
Finished 13-3 and won the Super Bowl
Beat Packers, 36-16
Finished 12-4 and won the NFC title
Beat Bears, 26-0
Finished 10-6 and made the playoffs
Beat Dolphins, 12-10
Barely survived to win eighth straight home opener
When a giant American flag covered nearly every inch of the turf at CenturyLink Field and the Seahawks stood and locked arms with local police, firefighters, EMTs and members from all branches of the U.S. military along the sideline, Brown placed his blue and green decorative firefighter hat over his heart and hummed along with Keith Taylor, who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“A lot of brave men and women sacrificed on this day for no good reason other than a bunch of people who were jealous of our freedom,” said Brown, whose voice cracked with emotion as he dampened his moist eyes with his hand. “They were jealous of what the men and women who wear a uniform in the country fought and provided for us.
“I really respect the unity that the Seahawks have chosen to bring. The taking a knee on the sideline, I don’t respect. I believe it’s disgraceful to what our country stands for as well as being very individual. When you take a knee, you separate yourself from everyone else.”
Across the field, four members of the Miami Dolphins — running back Arian Foster, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Michael Thomas — took a knee when the national anthem played, a common occurrence recently at sporting events since the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem before an exhibition game to draw attention to racial inequality, social injustice and police brutality.
After the Seahawks’ 12-10 victory Sunday, the Dolphins pushed back on criticism about their protest and the timing, on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
“We had a commemorative speech from President Obama about 40 seconds long before the national anthem was played that we all stood for,” Foster said. “So we honored those that lost their lives 15 years ago on that event. This wasn’t about 9/11.
“We paid our respects and after that we took a symbolic knee to say that we see and feel you to the people out there that are hurting. It’s about the message. They (critics) say that it’s not the time to do it. Well, when is the time?”
Dolphins coach Adam Gase knew the players were planning a demonstration and urged them to be respectful.
“There’s nothing I’m able to say one way or the other because it’s a person’s opinion, it’s their right,” Gase said. “My job is to coach the football team.”
In a statement released via Twitter, the Dolphins franchise said, “We encourage all members of our organization to stand at attention during the national anthem out of respect and appreciation for the freedoms we are afforded as Americans. We also recognized that it’s an individual’s right to reflect during the anthem in different ways. We respect these liberties and appreciate the sacrifices that everyone has made for our country, especially on this day of remembrance. We hope today’s events will continue a respectful and thoughtful dialogue in our community on unity, inclusiveness and togetherness.”
Elsewhere Sunday, former Washington Husky Marcus Peters, now with the Chiefs, stood for the anthem before Kansas City’s game against the Chargers while raising his right fist.
Since Kaepernick’s initial protest several athletes also have refused to stand during the anthem, including Seattle cornerback Jeremy Lane during an exhibition game.
The NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport reported the Seahawks had planned to kneel together with their hands over their hearts Sunday, but some players didn’t feel comfortable with that.
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin revealed the team’s plans Saturday on social media and said he “never said there was a protest.”
After the game, Baldwin said players plan to meet with Seattle mayor Ed Murray and “police chiefs across the country, across the state.”
“That’s the first step: to have communication,” Baldwin said. “We need to know the perspective of other people. … We need to break down those walls and barriers and get people to see that there’s perspectives outside of their own eyes.”
Still, some Seahawks fans didn’t know what to expect when they arrived at the stadium Sunday.
“Just knowing these guys’ personalities, I had no doubt in my mind that they would be standing up for the flag and doing something positive,” said Amir Najam, a 40-year-old project manager who lives in Renton. “They got their message out I feel without offending anyone.”
LT Jones, a 55-year-old retiree who lives in Auburn and has been a Seahawks season-ticket holder with her husband Michael for the past 14 years, said politics and sports do not mix.
“I understand all of the politics going on, but let’s play football and leave that someplace else,” she said. “There’s too much crap going on in America right now. This is my release to come to a football game. I want to see football.
“I don’t want to see the politics at a football game. I understand the issues. I do. As a black woman I do. I have a 35-year-old black son. I get it. But whatever message you’re trying to get out gets lost when you demonstrate at a football game. Do it someplace else.”
Warren Moon, a former Husky and Seahawk and the first African-American Hall of Fame quarterback, said the Seahawks struck the perfect balance Sunday.
“I love what they’re doing because it’s unity,” he said. “It’s showing that they’re aware of everything that’s going on and they wanted to have a voice in it, but they want to have a unified voice and a unified positive voice.”
Moon, 59, said there’s been tremendous growth in discussions about race equality, social activism and sports since 1984 when he first entered the NFL.
The Seahawks said they plan to continue locking arms during the anthem for the rest of the season.
“We had a lot of guys that were socially active like Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammad Ali,” Moon said. “They did it way back when it wasn’t that popular to do and survived it.
“That next generation, I didn’t see as much of that, whether it was Michael Jordan or Charles Barkley or those types of guys. Now you’re seeing this next generation take advantage of it and they’re starting to run with it because they see that it’s OK. Once you see that it’s OK, you move on and keep using your voices.”