NASHVILLE, Tenn. Michael Bennett called it “revolutionary.”
Richard Sherman called it “life-changing”--and discussing trying to make change socially as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali did decades ago.
Doug Baldwin said the “severity of the situation” with how our country treats minorities--and the platforms NFL players have to do something about it-- “cannot be understated.”
The talk after the Seahawks’ game Sunday at the Tennessee Titans was almost as surreal as the scene before kickoff.
As a United States Marine Corps color guard from a Nashville-area recruiting unit presented the U.S. flag on the field, both teams stayed off it during the anthem before Seattle’s 33-27 loss to Tennessee at Nissan Stadium.
It was a first for the NFL, part of the league’s response this weekend to racial and social inequality in our country. The situation got more emotionally charged than it already was with President Donald Trump’s comments NFL owners should "fire" players who do not stand for the anthem — and that any player who doesn’t stand is a "son of a b***h" for expressing their views in that way.
Baldwin said his Seahawks consulted with Titans players up until a couple hours before kickoff to coordinate the statement the teams would make before the game. Turning to the team’s vice president of communications next to him to see what he should or should not say, Baldwin stopped short of saying the Seahawks asked the Titans to join them in staying off the field for the anthem. What they did came hours after the Pittsburgh Steelers became the first entire group of players in the league to not come out onto the field for an anthem, before their game at Chicago.
"It meant everything," Bennett said following Seattle’s 33-27 loss to Tennessee. "It was us coming together beyond football and just recognizing that as human beings there is something bigger than this.
"Somebody wins and somebody loses in football, but at the end of the day it’s about coming together and collaborating and figuring out how to unite people together. And I think as a team we did that today. We showed what we have compassion for and we showed what we stand for.
"We stand for equality. … it was pretty exciting to be a part of something that was revolutionary as far as the whole NFL and people coming together as one. … We stand for equality and with all of the things that are going on in the United States right now, we just wanted to find a way to not isolate people but to come together as a team."
The New York Times reported an NFL executive said the league will not fine the Seahawks, Titans or Steelers for not taking the field during the anthem. League rules state players are required to be on the sideline during the anthem, though the NFL does not specify whether players must stand.
Unity was the Seahawks’ main purpose.
“First of all, we wanted to do something as a team,” quarterback Russell Wilson said after he threw for 373 yards and four touchdowns on a career-high 49 passes in the loss. “Last year we did something and locked arms, and I thought that was very good and stuff. And then we wanted to figure out how we could do something as a whole team. Collective effort to show that the injustice in America for people needs to be fixed.
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“I think that we have so many players who do such a great job in the community, represent the Seattle Seahawks really well, represent their families really well, try to do things to help change our community one person at a time, one individual at a time. I think there were a lot of guys that really, really wanted to do something and try to make a difference. I definitely was one of them, too. I wanted to do something where we could do something unified. We believe in love. The only way that we can defeat the hate is by loving people, and so that’s what we believe in.
“It’s a serious issue and it can’t be taken lightly. I feel like, honestly, it’s being taken lightly, and I think we need to do something about it. And we have to be able to communicate and we have to be able to work together to show love and make a difference in our world. I think it starts at the top but it starts in our communities, too.”
Sherman, Seattle’s three-time All-Pro cornerback, says President Trump comes down harder on protesting NFL players than neo-Nazis.
"They're running around with swastikas," he said. "That's wrong. Put your political affiliations aside, that's wrong. There's no place for this anywhere in the world. And you can condemn both sides if that's what you have to do. If there's violence on both sides, they’re wrong on both sides, condemn both sides. But you can't say there's fine people on both sides, when one sides running around with swastikas and I'm looking for the fine people. I think those are things I worry about in this country.”
Sherman, a Stanford graduate, was asked what he would do if he was president.
"I would stop dividing it," Sherman said. "I would talk to people like I had some sense. I wouldn't talk from a pedestal. I would talk even keel with everybody. I would try to help as many people as I can. You don't have to be divisive. I don't have to call anybody an S.O.B. I can say I don't agree with it. I can say I don't agree with their methods (or) the way things are going.
"But I don't have to say there are fine people on both sides, when there are people running around with swastikas. I would condemn them as much as we condemn that regime. And there are patriots out there that say they're patriots and say, 'Man, I'm just conservative. I'm alt-right.' And that's fine. Politics are politics. But sometimes you got to put politics aside and realize you're dealing with human beings.
“Put politics aside and realize this is a fellow man."
Multiple players said staying inside during the anthem was preferable to some players who did not want to sit or kneel at the bench area during it.
"People felt more comfortable (staying in the locker room)," Bennett said, "and we didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable with anything we did and we felt that that was the best way to do it."
The anthem singer Meghan Linsey and her accompanying musician took a knee at the end of the anthem.
"This is a world-changing, life-changing event. Once in a lifetime," Sherman said. "You have to capture a moment like that, and the moment doesn’t affect everyone the same. Some people, it’s a moment that has no effect, has little effect. It won’t move their needle either way which is fine. But they sympathize with their teammates so they do want to do something. Whether going out there and sitting down during the national anthem for some guys was unacceptable and that’s fine. That’s fine. We made that decision with that in mind."
Sherman said there were "tons of proposals" among Seahawks teammates on what to do Sunday, and the team met "for hours" Saturday trying to finalize an action all players would accept.
"For some guys, there was a suggestion that we kneel with the flag half-staff because that symbolizes that there’s an issue going on in our country. And there is, obviously," Sherman said. "So, there were a ton of things thrown around. But I think we came to a good decision and we stand by it.
"Anything we did, we had to be unified when we did it."
Minutes before the game, the Seahawks released this statement. I confirmed leading Seahawks players and coach Pete Carroll met Saturday at their team hotel for hours to agree on how to word the official statement.
"As a team we have decided that we will not participate in the national anthem," the statement said. "We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. Out of love for our country and in honor of the sacrifices made on our behalf, we unite to oppose those that would deny our most basic freedoms. We remain committed to continuing to work towards equality and justice for all.
"Respectfully, the Players of the Seattle Seahawks."
President Trump told a rally in Alabama that NFL owners should "fire" any player who does not stand for the anthem before games to protest social causes.
"Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a b***h off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired.’?" Trump said Friday night. "You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country."
"My mom is a beautiful lady she has never been a b***h," Bennett posted on his Twitter feed Saturday.
Baldwin, the son of a Florida law-enforcement veteran, said the president’s comments were “scary” -- for all of us.
“I think it’s scary that we have a man in office who was elected to protect our basic rights, and yet he has shown recently the opposite,” Baldwin said after he had a career-high 10 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss. “I think the media – a lot of the media – can understand, because they’ve gone through very similar situations with him. But, for us as players, directly being called out about not being able to express ourselves – which this great country, and many men and women who have sacrificed their lives for us to be able to express ourselves in that way--that’s the foundational core of who we are as a country. And for that to be threatened by the man who is at the head of the table for our country is a very serious thing.
“I hope that that message is loud and clear for anybody who’s listening, anybody who’s watching, that they recognize that this is a dangerous time and we recognize that.”
I asked Baldwin why the Seahawks decided staying in the locker room during the anthem was a better statement than coming out and sitting or kneeling during it.
“Well, we’re hoping to unite people of all colors, all races, all religions, all beliefs to come together and realize the severity of the situation,” Baldwin said. “This is our country, you know? This is what we were founded on, was a protest. The Boston Tea Party, that was a protest.
“I think there’s something to be said to make sure we protect the sanctity and the importance of individuals in this country being able to express themselves. And I understand it’s a difficult topic to talk about. I understand we all have our different opinions, we all have our different viewpoints, but that’s what makes our country so great. That’s what makes our country unique and beautiful. That’s why we are where we are, is because we don’t always agree.
“Just getting 63 guys to agree to do something is difficult in itself, so I can understand how difficult it is for the country. But, sometimes I feel like there’s a line that needs to be drawn. And to me, the most important thing we can do at this moment is be unified. Not just as a football team, or as an NFL, or as a city, as a red state, blue state, as a country, as a society, because again, the severity of the situation cannot be understated.”
The Seahawks said their statement was for Sunday. It remains to be seen what the team does next week before its home game against Indianapolis, and beyond.
The Titans issued their own statement before they didn’t participate in Sunday’s anthem here, either.
"As a team, we wanted to be unified in our actions today. The players jointly decided this was the best course of action," the Titans said. "Our commitment to the military and our community is resolute and the absence of our team for the national anthem shouldn’t be misconstrued as unpatriotic."
General manager John Schneider said on the Seahawks’ radio network’s pregame show from the field here that these "have been an interesting 48 hours here since we landed.
"These are difficult times," Schneider said, mentioning "trying to keep 53, really 70-some players (including practice squad and injured reserve) together, right?" given they are from various backgrounds and beliefs.
"Pete had a long meeting with some guys (Saturday) afternoon, and we had a long team meeting last night that was pretty emotional."
Baldwin said this game wasn’t the same as seven years of others for him in the NFL.
"I’d be remiss to say it didn’t feel different," Baldwin said. "It’s hard to separate what we do in our daily lives from the game...
"Yes, this loss feels different. I think it was an opportunity to, again, unify."