RENTON Pete Carroll thinks everyone -- football players, coaches, staff, fans in the stands -- should stand for our national anthem.
But he supports Michael Bennett’s decision not to, because of the causes to which Pro Bowl defensive end is calling attention.
On a day Seahawks top wide receiver and team leader Doug Baldwin said he’s considering joining Bennett’s protest against treatment of minorities in the United States by sitting during national anthems before games this season, Seattle’s coach publicly backed his Pro Bowl defensive end’s choice to sit during “The Star Spangled Banner.”
But Carroll made clear he believes all Americans should stand for the national anthem at sporting events.
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“I support the heck out of his concerns and his issues and all of that,” Carroll said of Bennett following Tuesday’s practice at training camp. “When it comes to it, I love our country. And I think we should all stand for our opportunities when the flag is represented.
“But the fact that his heart is in a great place, and he’s going to do great work well after the time that he’s with us, it’s easy for me to support him in that in his issues.
“But I think we should all be standing up when they play the national anthem.”
Carroll said he doesn’t know whether Bennett will continue the protest he began at Sunday’s preseason opener at the Los Angeles Chargers. Bennett said outside the locker room after that game in Carson, California, he will continue to sit during anthems before games.
The Seahawks play Minnesota Friday at CenturyLink in their first home preseason game.
Jeremy Lane, the cornerback who last summer sat on the Seahawks’ bench in Oakland before a preseason game to support Colin Kaepernick’s protest, said Tuesday when I asked him if he would join Bennett going forward: “We’ll see.”
Bennett remains hugely popular here at Seahawks camp. During practice Tuesday, less than 48 hours after he sat during the anthem, Bennett veered out of a defensive-ends drill to do this, and get this response:
“We’ve talked a lot about all that is going to come to him, and listen very carefully to people’s perspectives and stay very true and be very much in the middle, so that he doesn’t get one way or the other by somebody else’s concerns, somebody else’s issues,” Carroll said.
“I’ll continue to support him and help him in every way. We’ll visit regularly, and hopefully we can help him make sense of all the different things that come his way.”
So Carroll agrees with Bennett’s cause but not his action of bringing attention to it. The coach is not going to sanction his star player for sitting, or if he continues to sit during anthems.
As head coach, Carroll of course has the authority to insist Bennett stand during the anthem like every other Seahawk. I asked Carroll if he has considered that aspect of team unity; Bennett was the lone player sitting during Sunday’s anthem in Carson, while 89 preseason teammates plus coaches, team doctors and staff were standing all around him locked arm in arm along their sideline during the song.
The coach gave a murky answer to that.
“We have talked about that,” Carroll said. “And we talked about it a lot last year (when the Seahawks began standing with interlocked arms during anthems before games). This was a little bit of a surprise. I didn’t know it was coming, so we hadn’t addressed it going in. So, we’ll see.
“This is a very connected football team. And everybody has really come here to do something special, and to do it together. And so whatever happens from that point forward, we’ll be working on it, and we’ll see where it goes.
“Michael has really dedicated the last few years of his life to try to understand what is going on around the world. He’s traveled everywhere to try to understand people’s issues and concerns, and it’s really captured his heart. He has really turned his focus to doing good work, helping people and doing everything he can for things where he thinks he can help.”
It appears somewhat likely that what happened in Southern California before Sunday’s game won’t exactly be what happens before Friday’s preseason game in Seattle. Between Baldwin’s public musing about perhaps joining Bennett, the fact Baldwin says he and Bennett are going to be talking about what to do next, and their coach’s consideration of team unity going forward, any pregame protest may have a different appearance this week.
Then again, the Seahawks may decide to continue to let Bennett go on in his selected way.
Bennett’s sitting during the anthem Sunday at the Chargers’ StubHub Center drew national attention -- plus controversy and ire. CNN interviewed him following Tuesday’s practice. CNN wasn’t interviewing him last week.
Many fans and citizens believe by sitting during the anthem he disrespected traditional symbols, history and representations of our country. Bennett and his supporters say that view is missing the point of the protest and its message: the need to fix society’s treatment of minorities.
Bennett is the son of a U.S. Army sergeant. He has visited inner-city neighborhoods across the U.S. in the last year. He 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. He went to Haiti with teammate and fellow Pro Bowl defensive end Cliff Avril to help build schools there. This summer Bennett visited with the Standing Rock, the Sioux tribe in a legal fight with the government over the Dakota Access pipeline through its lands in the upper Midwest.
Bennett said Sunday his aim by sitting during anthems at games 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.”