CARSON, Calif. A day after former teammate Marshawn Lynch did it on the Oakland Raiders’ bench, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett sat alone on the Seahawks’ bench throughout the national anthem just before Seattle’s preseason opener at the Los Angeles Chargers.
And Bennett said following Seattle’s 48-17 victory here that he will continue sitting during anthems before games all season long. He said he appreciates having the support of his Seahawks coaches, teammates and team management.
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The actions by Lynch and Bennett come on the same weekend a man drove a car into a group of people counter-protesting a racially motivated rally by whites in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing one and injuring at least 19.
Bennett said he had not talked to Lynch recently.
Bennett, the son of a U.S Navy enlisted man, made more news for what he did before the game than for his one series of play in it. He said his aim is to take Americans “out of their comfort zone” about how race relations are in our country.
“The last week, with everything that’s been going on in the last couple months -- especially after the last couple days seeing everything in (Charlottesville) Virginia... just wanted to be able to continue to use my platform to be able to speak on injustice,” Bennett said following Sunday’s game.
“First of all, I want to make sure that people understand I love the military. My father was in the military. I love hot dogs, like any other American, I love football like any other American.
“But I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots. I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. And I just want to see people have equality that they deserve.”
Lynch’s and Bennett’s actions during the anthem also come on the first full weekend of NFL games since last season, when Colin Kaepernick caused a national controversy by kneeling during anthems before San Francisco 49ers games.
Bennett, a husband and father to three daughters, has been increasingly active over the last year in social issues, including racial and gender equality. He signed a $31.5 million contract extension with Seattle in February, made his second consecutive Pro Bowl in January -- then spent much of his offseason touring the country doing speaking engagements on social issues, issues of race and policing and motivating disadvantaged youth and advocating for women’s rights. In June he visited Standing Rock, the Sioux tribe in a legal fight with the government over the Dakota Access pipeline through its land.
“Just because they are different doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t like them,” Bennett said of minorities living in America. “Just because they don’t eat what you eat, just because they don’t pray to the same God you pray to, doesn’t mean that you should hate them. When it is Muslim, whether it is Buddist, whether it is Christianity, I just want people to understand that no matter what, we need to stay together.
“It’s about more than football. It’s more about being a human being at this point.”
Coach Pete Carroll said he was unaware before the game that Bennett was going to sit during the anthem, and that he didn’t learn Bennett was not standing with his other 80-plus teammates, coaches and staffers along the sideline during the anthem until a team official told him after the game.
“I don’t want to be a distraction to my teammates. I don’t want to be a distraction to the organization, or Pete, or anybody on my team. I’m just doing what I do, and what I think is right. I’ve dedicated my life to this. This is what I believe in. This is my purpose. This is what I believe, to change society, to go into communities, doing organic work and just continuing to push the message that things aren’t fair.
“I have this platform, and I want to continue to use it,” Bennett said. “I want other athletes to know it’s OK if you believe that things are going wrong, if you want to speak about it it’s OK.
“I challenging you, for people, to be uncomfortable. Everybody’s in their comfort zone right now. Become uncomfortable, and go out and see what it’s like in society right now.
“I hope that I can activate everyone to get off their hands and feet and go out into the communities. Push helping each other. Push sitting down with someone of the opposite sex, opposite race, different religion, understand that people are different. Go out and join the community and try to change the society and change what you are a part of.”
Bennett says he knows many will be angry at what they believe is a disrespectful act against our country
“Of course, I am going to get face backlash,” he said.
“This is bigger than me. This is bigger than football. This is bigger than anything we have. This is about opportunities to people. Giving people equality.”