RENTON With a massive Chinook helicopter hovering overhead and soldiers on the ground in berets both maroon and green, the Army arrived at Seahawks training camp on Wednesday.
And some of the most elite warfighters in our military wanted to see Michael Bennett.
Seattle’s Pro Bowl defensive end, the man many critics believe is disrespecting the men and women of our military with his protest of sitting during the national anthem before games, wanted to see the soldiers, too.
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Bennett, the son of a Navy enlisted man, spent some of his childhood on Naval bases in Bremerton and in San Diego. On Wednesday following the Seahawks’ 14th practice of training camp, Bennett mingled on the field with and signed autographs for members of the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The paratroopers’ and Green Berets’ visit included a post-practice competition on the Seahawks’ field through various drills modeled after the NFL scouting combine.
It came three days after Bennett sat during the national anthem in Los Angeles prior to playing in Seattle’s preseason opener at the Chargers.
Bennett plans on continuing to sit instead of stand during the anthem before every Seahawks game this season, until, as he told CNN in an interview that aired nationally Wednesday, “I cannot stand until I see equality and freedom every day.”
Staff Sergeant Chris Harper of Sacramento, California, was one of the 1st Special Force Group soldiers wearing a maroon beret on the Seahawks’ field Wednesday. He knew all about what Bennett did Sunday and what Bennett says he plans to do throughout this season -- including in Seattle’s first home preseason game, Friday at CenturyLink Field against Minnesota.
Sergeant Harper has also served in the 82nd Airborne, the Army’s elite airborne infantry division. So he’s not exactly new to deployments, to warfighting, to genuine, proven pride in risking his life to defend our country.
He has no problem with what Bennett is doing.
"We do what we do so people can have the freedoms that they want, such as freedom of speech,” SSG Harper told me in the middle of the practice field moments after Bennett finished visiting with some of the Army’s toughest dudes. “There are places in this world, which we are intimately familiar with as 1st Special Forces Group, that don’t have the luxury to have such freedoms. And I have no problem with somebody expressing the freedom that we help provide.
"Not offended. And I do know that it does offend some people…I know that peaceful protest is one of the greatest things that we have, being American. The fact that someone can do that and go home to their family and not fear they are going to be awakened in the middle of the night or persecuted for doing that, that’s why we do what we do.”
SSG Harper then waved his hand around the field in the direction of other members of his unit standing around him.
“And I bet to a man, if you asked all these people that question (about what Bennett did) they’d say the same thing,” he said.
“Somebody having a non-violent approach to protest? That’s what we fight for.”
While extensively articulating his cause outside the Seahawks’ locker room in California following Sunday’s game -- the why that some are losing sight of amid thee furor over his act of protest -- Bennett said: “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.”
On this day at Seahawks training camp, and apparently throughout this season that may become unlike any in Bennett’s nine years in the NFL, uniquely skilled warfighters of an elite Army unit had Bennett’s back.