Since the intrusion in a major way of politics into sports is going to be with us for a good long while, here’s a couple of points worth considering:
- Colin Kaepernick began his protest against police brutality under a black president, not a white one, so the forces he was resisting were long-term and had nothing to do with the race of the White House’s occupant, unless that occupant wanted to make it so for purposes of division;
- Gaining attention for one’s capacity to disrupt is what Seahawks DE Michael Bennett is paid to do for a living.
Quarterbacks must always account for his presence. So if you’re uncomfortable with integrating politics into your football-watching experience, imagine yourself as an opposing QB. And remember to shake his hand, as most do, post-game.
A key element of disruption in football is timing. So too, for the long game of changing people’s minds about the significance of racial inequality. Bennett explained a bit about that Thursday in his weekly Q&A at the Seahawks shop.
“It’s never a wrong time to do the right thing,” he said. “Regardless of where you’re at. When there’s a time to do the right thing, you do the right thing.
“Is there really a time that we shouldn’t be talking about equality? Is there really a time that we shouldn’t be talking about racial discrimination? Is there really a time we shouldn’t be talking about women’s equality? Is there really a time that we shouldn’t be talking about water issues for Native American people? When is there not a time to talk about that?
“We find time to talk about the Kardashians. We find time to talk about fantasy football.”
Bennett and numerous other NFL players are asking us white people to at least think about matters that have always been there, but now are sufficiently inflamed to become a steadily increasing threat.
“I’m more concerned about what’s next for our future, for our kids and what we’re going to do for the people who are going to lead this world one day,” he said. “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.
“It’s not just my kids. It’s your kids. It’s everybody’s kids.”
Teammate Russell Wilson, who usually crafts his public persona carefully to avoid controversy, was more direct Thursday on the subject.
“Racism right now in America is very, very real,” he said. “Ignoring it doesn’t really do anything . . . We all need to learn how to love better. I need to. I know you need to and I know the people throughout our country need to. It is an imperative issue, because it can be my kids. It can be your kids.”
According to a story in si.com, Trump’s denigrations Friday of players protesting during the anthem inspired Wilson to speak out in meetings Saturday at the team’s Nashville hotel prior to Sunday’s game against the Titans.
“He had an epiphany of sorts when he saw the Trump comments,” CB Richard Sherman told si.com about the meetings. “Something changed in his mind. He was ready to kneel, sit, whatever needed to be done. He was ready to go there for his teammates and for the greater good.
“You’re not seeing that out of the premier quarterbacks in this league.”
What happened was that Trump’s disparagements pulled Wilson out of his comfort zone. Sherman Wednesday talked about how impressed he was.
“At times in this league, the quarterbacks are looked at differently, obviously for various reasons,” he said. They touch the ball every play. A lot of times, they’re the most recognizable names and faces on the team. They have certain brands to protect, certain images to uphold.
“I think that him opening up and understanding that this was a bigger issue, and that it will have an effect not only on him, but his family and his kids, kind of woke him up. I think that’s awesome. I think that he was very human. He was very vulnerable talking to the team. I think that was a huge moment for him. I was incredibly proud of him.”
Wilson’s evolution on the issue is the sort of incremental step that can be taken by a cautious person because the protest is silent and not disruptive to the conduct of the game.
Even some owners took part over the weekend by locking arms with players on the field, including Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who reportedly was badgered by Trump by phone to not yield to his players.
Skeptics have mocked the gesture by owners as an attempt to co-opt the movement while engaging in essentially a lock-out of Kaepernick, the originator, and for using the locked-arms gesture as some sort of moral equivalence to taking a knee during the anthem when it has nothing to do with dissent.
Bennett is not among the skeptics, because he believes more in the end result — a serious national discussion on race — justifies whatever means people use to enter it.
“I found a little irony in that,” he said regarding ownership gestures. “But it’s never your place to judge somebody when they finally get to a place where they are able to accept the truth.
“I think that if I was to go back and be like, ‘Where were you then?’, it doesn’t give me an opportunity for those people to grow along the journey, because then you start pointing fingers. To bring them along slowly — it doesn’t matter if they get a spoonful, then they start getting more and more. You feed them, and then they start to understand, and then they get a belly and a mind for what we’re going through.
“You can’t really push people to believe what you believe in. But as they grow with you, you constantly get a chance to show them. I think that as an employer, you have to respect your employees and what they’re going through. I think a lot of the employers this weekend, they showed that. I think that’s important for growth as a player.”
Some sports fans will never accept an anthem protest, period. But as far as the Seahawks’ corner in this drama, it would be flat wrong to dismiss the participation of these players and coaches as the prattlings of insincere, grandstanding ingrates.
Yes, they have a ballgame to win Sunday. They and their families also have lives to live beyond entertaining us, and they have risked much to help improve the quality of those lives.
They, and we, don’t know how it will end, or even if it will. All they can do is evolve, learn and ask others to join the same aspiration for equality. That is not a threat to democracy. It is the foundation.