OAKLAND, Calif. Of all the 75 players that were on the Seahawks’ roster I expected might follow Colin Kaepernick in sitting during a National Anthem before a game, Jeremy Lane was about, oh, the 70th-most likely to do it.
There were 2,400 players on NFL rosters entering this final weekend of preseason games around the league. Lane is the only one so far of the 2,325 non-San Francisco 49er players in the league to display his protest for racial inequlity in this country by not standing for the anthem.
It’s not that the veteran defensive back was or was not justified in his act minutes before the Seahawks’ preseason finale against the Raiders at the Oakland Coliseum. Who am I, not an African American, to judge how a Black man feels about his and his race’s place and treatment in our country? (I have my own, strong opinions about The Star-Spangled Banner and our national flag; you can probably deduce those from my life and work experiences before professional sports writing.)
It’s that Lane is a quiet, understated, almost unassuming member of a largely outspoken team. Especially an outspoken defense.
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I mean, Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman play for the Seahawks.
To hear Lane and coach Pete Carroll tell it, his teammates were unaware he was going to sit during an anthem. Lane said he didn’t tell anyone, “I just did it,” and Carroll said Lane didn’t talk to him about doing it. But Sherman said he knew, because Lane told him he was going to do it.
Sherman said he told Lane before the act, “you just have to be prepared for the pros and cons. But he was really strong in his decision and has a strong conviction in what he was doing, so he’ll be fine.”
Lane turned 26 this month. He is from Tyler, Texas, an hour and a half east of Dallas – where a gunman killed policemen this summer at a demonstration against police shootings of minorities around the country. Lane played collegiately at Northwestern State, a Football Championship Subdivision team in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He went to college near Fort Polk, an Army training center in northwest Louisiana, and three hours from Baton Rogue, where one of those police killings of minorities happened this summer.
The Seahawks drafted Lane in the sixth round in 2012. He was best remembered, until now, for intercepting a pass into Seattle’s end zone by Tom Brady in the first quarter of Super Bowl 49 two seasons ago and breaking his arm and tearing ligaments in his knee on a gruesome fall upon being tackled at the end of his interception return. He immediately went to a Phoenix-area hospital and woke up from arm surgery with his Seahawks at the Patriots 1-yard line inside the final minute of that infamous Super Bowl ending.
Now, he’s said more by not standing during the National Anthem than he ever had before Thursday.
I asked Lane in the visiting locker room at the Coliseum Thursday night what he was trying to say by staying seated.
“I wasn't trying to say anything,” Lane said. “Just standing behind Kaepernick.”
That’s another reason this was unexpected. There is no direct, personal link between Lane and Kaepernick, other than they being NFC West rivals for years.
Then again, Lane doesn’t need one. He is linked by belief and conviction in a cause that goes so far beyond football, to near where he’s from, and indeed needs to be addressed. By all of us.
“No relationship,” Lane said when I asked him what one he had with Kaepernick. “I just like what he's doing and I'm standing behind him.
“It's something I plan to keep on doing until I feel like justice has been served.”
Kaepernick announced his intent to give $1 million of his 2016 football earnings to charities dedicated to the issues he is spotlighting. He is scheduled to earn $11.9 million in base salary from the 49ers this year.
If Lane were to follow Kaepernick in that way, proportionally, he would donate about $168,000; Lane is earning $2 million guaranteed from the Seahawks in 2016.
Lane didn’t sound like he was ready for a what’s-next in his stand. He didn’t talk of donating or acting in other ways other than sitting for the next anthem before the next game.
If Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, the champion of the individuality that makes him such a popular coach with his players, doesn’t change Lane’s plans Lane’s seemingly going to stay in the national spotlight as Kapernick’s unlikely partner from afar in this protest. Carroll said late Thursday he supports Lane’s individuality “and how we want to see an individual succeed,” and that he “is proud of the progress” he and his players are making in conversations about race in the NFL and American society.
Say what you will -- and have -- about how appropriate or inappropriate sitting during the National Anthem is for this cause. Lane has put himself into the national controversy surrounding Kaepernick. And if what he does what he said -- “I think I plan to keep on doing it ... until I feel like justice has been served” -- and Carroll and the Seahawks continue the support they showed Thursday, Lane will be doing it again at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Sept. 11 when the Seahawks host Miami in the season opener.
Because justice on centuries’ worth of race relations in this country won’t be served in the next nine days.