RENTON Doug Baldwin isn’t afraid to talk about the national controversy surrounding Michael Bennett sitting during the national anthem before games.
In fact, the Seahawks’ top wide receiver is considering jumping right into the middle of it with his teammate. He says he may join Bennett in sitting during the anthem, perhaps Friday night when Seattle hosts the Minnesota Vikings in the next preseason game.
And Baldwin said he is “definitely” going to talk to his coach about what he and the team should do moving forward during the national anthem.
Baldwin, who has been among the most socially active Seahawks in the last year, is wading into the anthem-sitting uproar for the same reason Bennett’s already in it: To bring more attention to how minorities of all kinds are treated in our country.
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To that end, it appears to be working: Bennett was getting interviewed by CNN following Tuesday’s practice.
CNN wasn’t interviewing Bennett last week.
Asked if he thought about joining Bennett in his protest, Baldwin said: “Absolutely.
“We are going to have a conversation here shortly. And, again, we do things as a -- we try to do things as a team. We’ll see how we can support Mike in this situation.”
Baldwin returned to practice Tuesday after being out since Thursday for a foot strain. He also said he has talked to former Seahawks teammate Marshawn Lynch since the star running back sat during the anthem just before his Oakland Raiders played a preseason game in Arizona on Saturday.
“Yeah, I talked to Marshawn,” Baldwin said.
Asked if Lynch’s reason for sitting was the same as Bennett’s, Baldwin said with a grin: “You are going to have to ask Marshawn. You know why I am here.”
Baldwin talked a few minutes after coach Pete Carroll said here at training camp he is balancing supporting his player’s protest with the fact he, Carroll, believes all should stand for the anthem.
Baldwin said, “we, as a society” should be proud of Bennett’s explanation Sunday for why he sat.
“I think we take for granted the fact that, in our country, we have freedom of speech,” Baldwin said. “I think we should be proud of individuals that feel strongly about certain topics and certain situations that happen in our country. ... To further Mike’s point, there are things going on in our country and in our communities that people don’t agree with. Who am I or who are we to tell individuals that are in this community that their opinions, their thoughts are wrong?
“I firmly believe the purpose, the thought, behind everything is to better our society. It’s not to be divisive. It’s not to be negative. I fully support Mike in his message and in his thoughts -- and definitely in the way he went about them.”
Asked if he’s had conversations in the last few days with Carroll about protesting during the anthem before games, Baldwin said: “I haven’t. Not yet. We’ll definitely have a conversation, though.”
I asked Baldwin if he joins his coach in believing all Americans should stand for the national anthem at public events such as football games.
“I think that everybody has the right to the freedom of speech, right? That’s what our country says, right? We do, right?” Baldwin said. “So yeah, whether you agree with it or not, that’s irrelevant. Individuals have the right to the freedom of speech.
“We want to talk about somebody taking a stand for something that’s important. Taking a stand, taking a seat for something that they deem important, right? Any quality in our country, injustice in our country, we’re sitting here having a conversation about whether it’s important or not that a guy stands for a national anthem, or sits, when the topic is inequality or injustice. But yeah, I look in the stands and some of our games both home and away and I see people who are drunk with their hats still on, yelling. How come you guys aren’t talking to them? How come there’s not a discussion about that?
“(Bennett) is taking a reasonable and peaceful approach to something that I -- I mean, I don’t know who doesn’t think is valiantly important to our society and the health and wellness of our communities. But yet we’re not talking about people who are in the stands drunk during the national anthem with their hats still on, yelling at players, cussing during the national anthem, we’re not talking about that. To me this is -- I know you guys are reporters and you’ve got to make a story about something -- but I just think we’re taking it too far.”
For now let’s move past the fact fans pay good money and tune in by the millions to television networks paying the NFL billions to watch the players’ perform and win -- and not to watch drunk guys in the stands.
Baldwin has also been active in social and minority issues in the last year. The Seahawks’ co-record holder in receptions for a season met in 2016 with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Baldwin, the son of a law-enforcement officer in Florida, has formed a task force and met with Seattle area police departments and Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to discuss policing practices and policies on the use of deadly force.
I asked Baldwin, of all the things athletes can do, why this? Why sitting though the national anthem, to be the act that draws attention to this cause, when the anthem is revered and respected by many Americans, and protesting during it could be seen as counter-productive in that the act is clouding the intent and the message?
“If you want to take it that way,” he said. “It’s freedom of speech, again.”
He paused. And he smiled again.
Then his tone got more forceful than at any other time in his 17 minutes of talking on Tuesday.
“There’s a lot more I want to say about it, but I won’t use this platform and this moment to say it -- because I’ve been advised not to. And out of respect for this organization, I’ll do that,” Baldwin said.
“However, I think it’s bigger than that. It’s much bigger than that, you know? If your feelings are hurt about it, or about a particular situation, then maybe you should ask yourself, ‘Why are my feelings being hurt by this? Why is it SO important for somebody who, you know, seems to be an intelligent human being, why’s it so important for them to get this message across? Why is it SO important for them to do it in this fashion, in the particular moment in which they do it? Why is it so important?’
“I think all of us can ask ourselves those questions. And maybe we can be smarter human beings, smarter people, a smarter society, if we do that.”
Baldwin said he is not concerned about blow-back from fans and citizens for wading into this controversial subject. He answered with a refreshing breeze of perspective.
“No,” he said. “It’s football. It’s football. I appreciate the fans who come out here and they support us, but it’s football. We’re not saving lives. We’re not police officers. We’re not doctors. We’re football players, first and foremost.
“If you want to stop watching the game because a guy feels strongly about a very serious topic that’s going on in our society, then that’s your choice. You have the right to freedom of speech. Yeah. If you want to do that -- all for it.”