RENTON Russell Wilson is not just the face of the franchise. He is, as teammate Richard Sherman said, his own brand-as the top, superstar quarterbacks in the NFL are.
Wilson has branding and endorsement considerations to consider in speaking up or out, about anything. And he is, by his nature, programmed to be formulaic and measured in what he says and does.
But last weekend, Wilson got real with his teammates. And they were wowed. Richard Sherman was “incredibly proud of him.”
The Seahawks gathered for an intense, emotional team meeting like no other before their game at Tennessee. Coach Pete Carroll spent hours on Saturday in their downtown Nashville hotel discussing with his council of leading veteran players what the team should do during last Sunday’s national anthem, to back Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett’s protest during the anthem he started last month for the mistreatment of minorities and need for police reform in our society.
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Not every Seahawk wanted to sit or kneel during the anthem. Some in the locker room are supporters of President Donald Trump. A day earlier Trump had stated at a political rally in Alabama every NFL owner should “fire” any player that sits or kneels during the anthem--and that such a protesting player is a “son of a bitch.”
Amid the differing opinions and suggestions of what the Seahawks should do--one nixed proposal, Sherman said, was for every player to kneel along the sideline behind a flag raised only to half staff--Wilson spoke up. Passionately.
“I think that he was very human. He was very vulnerable talking to the team,” Sherman said. “I think that was a huge moment for him.
“And I was incredibly proud of him.”
Why did the talk and cause inspire Wilson to speak up so forcefully to his teammates?
“The overall gist of it all was: You know and a lot of us and I’ve been fortunate to have my own kids now, and see other players on our team have kids. And different races and people,” Wilson said Thursday, before practice for Sunday’s home game against Indianapolis. “I think about our huddle. I think about when I go into the huddle there’s 10 other guys in the huddle, and there’s all different races. There’s black guys. There’s white guys. There’s guys from other locations and different socioeconomic status who grew up different. But we all share one common cause, and one common goal: We all want to win, and we all want to make a difference in our communities.
“Really, for me, I was passionate about it because I am really concerned about what’s next, for our future, for our future kids and what we are going to do for the people who are going to lead this world one day. I pray for my kids every day that when they go to school that racism isn’t a thing that stops them from going where they want to go. And it’s not just my kids. It’s your kids. It’s everybody’s kids. I think that’s really critical.
“That was on my mind. That was on my heart, especially.”
Wilson said Seahawks players have talked very directly about how “we love the military.”
“I have family who served and done stuff,” Wilson said. “I think about that, and I think about people that put their lives on the line for wars and everything else. And we respect that and we love that.”
Wilson referenced the many visits he and his teammates have with military units and personnel from around the Puget Sound region, including the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) from Joint Base Lewis-McChord that visited training camp last month.
“We have 100-percent respect for what people do to allow us to play the game of football,” Wilson said.
After Wilson spoke of the need to do something, as an entire team, the Seahawks players decided to stay in their locker room in Nashville during the anthem. The players didn’t want to put those teammates who want to believe they should stand for every anthem, and those who support Trump--and the Seahawks have both--in the position of having to choose between what they believe in and team unity. So they decided to stay inside.
They eventually contacted leading players for the opposing Titans, and they, too, decided to stay in their locker room. That made theirs the only NFL game last weekend, and in the last two seasons since Colin Kaepernick began this movement in the league by kneeling during the anthem in the 2016 preseason, where neither team was on the field for the anthem.
“I think the overall thought for us was really to be unified, and to really be able to do something that ultimately--and we’re not stopping now, it’s really a sense of something we want to do for the rest of our lives--is to encourage different races and different people to come together. It’s never a thing of discouragement.
“For us, we have this great opportunity to acknowledge something that’s real. Racism in America right now is very, very real...
“What’s going on in our communities and everything else, it’s very important for us to make a difference in our community. To bring the black people together and the white people together. To bring Latinos, to bring people from all different races and places together, not apart.”
Wilson said when he spoke up in the team meeting last weekend he also thought of his weekly, Tuesday visits to Seattle Children’s hospital throughout the year, the critically ill kids from all walks of life he meets and inspires. You can criticize his overthrows against the Titans, his holding onto the ball too long, even, if you must, him publicizing going to Seattle Children’s. But my wife is a staff member there. She sees first-hand what Wilson’s visits mean to the children there.
If you don’t think that’s real, you’ve got issues. Sad, stay-away-from-me issues.
“You see all these kids from different races and everything. And sickness doesn’t know race. It doesn’t,” Wilson said. “I think that sometimes, right now, especially in this time, (it’s about) bringing people together through love. That’s really the only way we can help heal the world... We all need to learn to love better. I need to. I know you need to. And I know the people throughout our country need to.
“And it’s an imperative issue. It can be my kids. And it can be your kids.”