BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 08/15/2017

Thiel: Bennett ‘dedicates my life’ to social protest

Yes, he’s using the the same gesture as Colin Kaepernick. But listen to Michael Bennett’s protest in light of the horror in Charlottesville. It’s worth sitting for.

Michael Bennett will follow Colin Kaepernick’s protest, but in a smarter way. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Regarding his professional athletic life, Michael Bennett is paid to be a disrupter. Regarding his personal life, the Seahawks star is a disrupter by choice. He’s bringing the latter to a conscience near you. Perhaps your own.

For some 12s, it’s about to get awkward. Which is, of course, his point. If you choose to shut him out, he’ll come to the attention of your kids.

“I look at myself as trying to inspire children, young people of different colors and genders, whatever they are, to want to change their environment and continuously push whatever they think is right,” he said Saturday night after the Seahawks’ 48-17 exhibition win over Chargers in Carson, CA. “I’m challenging people to be uncomfortable. Everybody’s in their comfort zone right now. Become uncomfortable, and go out and see what it’s like out there in society right now.”

What was out there Saturday was a repulsive episode of domestic terrorism in Charlottesville, VA., perpetrated by neo-Nazi white supremacists emboldened to brazenness by the election of President Trump. It took Trump, normally an impulse tweeter, 48 hours to muster a scripted scolding of the racist perps that had the bare minimum of belated sincerity after a national outrage.

It took less than 24 hours for Bennett to respond. He sat for the pre-game national anthem. He plans to do it again all season, or until a nation built on diversity and inclusion, particularly via sports, finds its way again.

“With everything that’s been going on the last couple of months, and especially after the last couple of days seeing what’s going on in Virginia, and earlier today in Seattle,” Bennett said Saturday. “I just wanted to be able to use my platform to be able to continuously speak on injustice.”

Even many fans who agree with Bennett wish he would find a place for his protest other than the stadium, normally the oasis from politics so many crave. But politics have been part of sports since the first Olympics in Greece 3,000 years ago.

Sometimes it ebbs. Now it flows.

For those who wish not to hear or see what Bennett has to say, think of it this way. As the vulgarians poured anti-black and anti-Semitic epithets, they fell upon the ears of a sports league where African Americans fill more than 70 percent of the roster spots, and whose ownerships and front offices have numerous Jews and Muslims as well as blacks.

Please try to tell them that you don’t want to indulge Bennett’s protest.

It’s worth considering that Bennett may be almost uniquely qualified for the job he has volunteered to take.

He’s respectful of the military and police, active with words, deeds and cash to causes, is as engaged as a pro sports athlete can be in the lives of his three daughters, and is afraid of nothing, including being vulnerable in public.

He’s articulate, passionate and also one of the best players in the NFL. Gravitas, I believe it’s called.

“I want to make sure people understand, I love the military,” Bennett said. “My father was in the military (retired Navy). 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-slandering. I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve.”

I’m curious to hear the comeback from critics of that mission statement.

Bennett of course is following the NFL trail-breaking a year ago of then-49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whose decision to kneel before the anthem set off a national firestorm that put him on the cover of Time magazine and in the crosshairs of many fans. Some contend his protest is why Kaepernick, who opted out of his San Francisco deal to become a free agent, remains unemployed.

I doubt that there’s any NFL conspiracy to keep him out; the NFL isn’t smart enough for that, at least without it leaking. But Kaepernick also made some poor decisions beyond the anthem gesture that allowed his basic position about social injustice to be ridiculed and thus dismissed by those eager to make him irrelevant.

Mocking police by wearing pig socks, sporting a Fidel Castro T-shirt, and failing to vote compromised his position to some. Bennett has a flippant sense of humor that may get him in trouble, but when he stays serious, he blunts the critics.

In an interview on a New York radio station earlier this summer, Bennett alluded to Kaepernick’s missteps.

“For him to bring up race and politics in sports, I think it struck a lot of people in the wrong way,” he said. “You watch the people that really watch football, it’s middle America and the people that buy tickets to the game aren’t really African-American people.

For him to bring that into that crowd was one thing that people felt like shouldn’t have  been there.”

Bennett takes a different tack.

“How can we continuously love one another and understand that people are different?” he said Saturday. “Just because they’re different doesn’t mean you shouldn’t like them. Just because they don’t smell the way you smell, just because they don’t eat what you eat, just because they don’t pray to the same God you pray to, that doesn’t mean you should hate them.

“Whether it’s Muslim, whether it’s Buddhist, whether it’s Christian, I just want people to understand that no matter what, we’re in this thing together. It’s more about being a human being at this point.”

Because of the potential for division, Bennett was also careful to isolate himself away from any team protest. Neither did he call teammates to join him.

“I just want to do my own thing,” he said. “I don’t want to be a distraction to my teammates, don’t want to be a distraction to the organization or Pete (Carroll).

“I’m just doing what I feel is right, and I dedicate my life to doing this. This is my purpose, this is what I believe in, changing society, going into communities, doing organic work and continue to push the message that things aren’t fair.”

He knows what he’s in for.

“Of course I’m going to face backlash,” he said. “This is bigger than me. This is bigger than football. This is about people, this is about bringing opportunities to people, giving people equality. This is bigger than a sport.

“At the end of the day, you can’t take your accolades with you. But what you can do is leave a legacy that you can give kids to seize, to be able to inspire.”

Bennett began building a non-football legacy long before the past weekend. But it’s hard to know where his choices will take him. He has a quick temper and has had more than his share of reckless moments in games and in media scrums. And he’s about to turn off at least some of his fans who don’t get that the flag was born as a symbol of rebellion.

As he does to quarterbacks, he’s bringing awkwardness and discomfort. At least for the rest of us, we have time to listen and think.

Just don’t bother complaining to the Seahawks about it. The club’s website Sunday night published  everything he said post-game. Politics are part of the game in America.


YourThoughts

  • StephenBody

    GOOD for Mike B. Maybe if enough NFL stars sit, this will become the non-issue it so richly deserves to be. ANYBODY should be able to sit, stand, salute, pick their noses (okay, maybe not that one) or whatever they want during the anthem. Yeah, they’ll catch static but I really don’t think Michael freakin’ Bennet really cares what anybody thinks. This is what he believes in and this is his Statement. It’s also mine. And anyone who has objections can, as my grandfather used to say, “S**t in one hand and complain in the other and see which one fills up first.”

    • art thiel

      I had no idea we had the same grandfather.

  • ReebHerb

    Michael, I’ve been though this at the UW back in the late ’60s. Exactly what are your ideas? We’ve spent billions of dollars on affirmative action and the only success case I know of is the US military. A young person can grow up in a tar paper shack, join the military, train, learn a profession, and have a good life. Today, the UW has 2.7 % black students nearly the same percentage as 1969. Meanwhile asian students make up nearly 25%. Are you mad at asians also?

    You can tear down every confederate statue in the world and your race will still not be exempt from getting up and going to work on Monday morning. Remember, you work in a city that displays a statue of Vladimir Lenin a man that was instrumental in instituting a system that made Hitler look like a choir boy.

    • Steed

      ” your race will still not be exempt from getting up and going to work on Monday morning”

      Wow. You are one sad sack. You think people who want society to be more fair and inclusive are just trying to avoid work?

      You know what they call someone who thinks people of an entire race don’t want to work?

      And, are you really dense enough to think that the statue of Lenin is displayed as an homage, instead of as mockery of him?

      Sad sad sad stuff herb.

      • ReebHerb

        Michael wants a discussion and Thiel put it out for discussion. Political correctness says keep victimhood alive and well. like I said, we had the discussion back at UW in the really radical ’60s and nothing much has changed. At the UW, most of the black students are on the football team.
        Ultimately intermarriage is probably the answer.

        • Steed

          You see “victimhood” as a problem, without seeing that racism and prejudice exist, and there are victims.

          But you also think an entire race of people doesn’t want to work, so you have pretty much identified yourself for what you are.

          • ReebHerb

            I am who I am. Don’t see why you wish to keep your jack boot on black folks necks. Anyway, we’ve had the same discussion for 50 years and nothing has changed. If everything is as great as you say, what is Bennett fusing about?

          • Steed

            “Don’t see why you wish to keep your jack boot on black folks necks.”

            Weird. You need mental health help. Get some soon.

            “If everything is as great as you say, what is Bennett fusing about?”

            I never said anything was great.

            It’s incumbent on you to hear what Bennett is “fussing” about if you want to make an intelligent comment on it. I suggest starting with understanding his point, THEN making a comment. You seem to have gotten the process backwards.

          • art thiel

            To the extent that opportunities and justice continue to be denied people because of race/gender, we have a ways to go. That’s what Bennett and others are saying. Attitudes like yours keep the jackboots in place.

          • ReebHerb

            Right. Obviously that is why I said if all doors are closed to you join the military and you can have a successful life. I see it every day around JBLM. Bennett spit in my eye.

          • art thiel
        • art thiel

          A lot has changed since the 60s, Reeb. Not, however, you.

          • ReebHerb

            You scoff at the 60s but forget we rode in after the Berkeley free speech movement. Political correctness isn’t solving anything. You know you were writing a controversial piece and myself and many others don’t like to be inferred raciest.

          • art thiel

            What solves it then, Reeb? Just going to work Monday morning?

          • ReebHerb

            It sure helps. Works well for Mexicans and Asians.

    • art thiel

      Reeb, you insulted an entire race. Were you holding a torch Friday?

      • ReebHerb

        No, I didn’t. Your Seattle busing didn’t solve the issue. A black president didn’t solve the issue. Microsoft hasn’t and isn’t solving the issue although many of the Indians they hire have darker skin than Bennett. There are no excuses for anyone. Get up and go to work on Monday morning. You’ll feel better.

        • art thiel

          Who claimed anything was solved? Did it occur to you that people who share your views are the primary impediments to progress?

  • rosetta_stoned

    Click.
    Permanently.

    Next?

    • art thiel

      See above answer to Paul, rosetta. Enjoy the games, and the writing, and let the politics pass as you would in the workplace, albeit with gritted teeth.

  • Tman

    Seahawks have a lot of bright, intelligent stars on their roster.

  • Steed

    Athletes used to kneel for the anthem and it was no big deal. It’s not going to be a big deal for anybody unless they start making it the #1 topic on NFL broadcasts, and nobody wants that.

    • art thiel

      I’d be amazed if the NFL audience dropped more than .0000001 over political/social protests. Fans love to say they’re done. Few follow through.

      • Kirkland

        I thought I read that ratings were down last year, and many polls said Kaepernick was reason number one for the fans not watching. Of course, the league has tons of other issues like CTE, franchises moving, Judge Goodell, etc.

  • Paul Harmening

    “I just want to do my own thing,” he said. “I don’t want to be a
    distraction to my teammates, don’t want to be a distraction to the
    organization or Pete (Carroll).

    Maybe you aren’t Bennett…to your teammates and Pete anyway. But you are to me and a lot of other fans. And it’s not about the social issue. I get that. I hate social injustice just as you do. And guess what Bennett and Thiel, social injustice has pretty much always existed.

    BUT, you and others choose to do this (your thing) on my (a fan’s) football field. There is a time and a place for everything. Using this field as a podium to demonstrate disrespect towards my flag, weather disrespect is intended or not, in order to prove a political or social point will drive me off the field and away from this or any other team that continues to allow this type of behavior. And, I am not alone on this.

    But, you are wise like a serpent. You well know the publicity you will receive. You well know you have writers and pundits such as Art Thiel, Danny O’Neil, Mike Salk et al to back you. You well know you have the power of an extremely politically correct liberal press to back you. You well know your coach isn’t going to sit you down, because the NFL has nothing to say because the liberal press would crucify them.

    And, as I’ve said, I hate social injustice as much as you do Bennett. And, as a novelist, I too am protesting…doing my thing in my way. But, those who purchase my books or contemplate doing so, know ahead of time what they are getting. And if they don’t want to get into (my thing), they don’t have to buy, or be surprised. They have a choice. You, Bennett are robing me of my hard earned money when you do that if I am there on the field or watching on the NFL network. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t pay for that. Now I do expect it, because you stated I should, and I won’t return.

    I love football. Always have. When I purchase a ticket to a game, or buy the NFL package to watch on the screen, I expect to see football and football only. When I see the camera’s and hear the commentary talk about you sitting during the National Anthem, distracting me from my game, I get pissed. Not at the tolerances of social injustice, but at YOU Bennett. Because, I need a few hours away from the real world and I pay good money to get that, and then you spoil it.

    And when I log on to Thiel’s site or others, and this is what I get, I’m pissed again. So, if this is the way it is from now on, then I’ll go someplace other than this site and the Hawks nest to get the football I love that is still free from these disruptions.

    I just moved to Texas to be with family. I’ve lived in Washington State most of my life. I am as big a Seahawk fan as any. But, I can adjust if necessary. Down here, they tend to look a little differently at these things.

    So, go ahead Art…or anyone who wants to. Tell me not to let the door hit my butt. It won’t be.

    • art thiel

      Paul, I sincerely would be sorry to see you go. And as long as you keep it civil, as you did with your essay, you’re welcome to comment.

      I understand that you and many others want to treat your sports as an oasis. I’m sorry for you that the real world problems can’t be walled off from your pleasures, but you certainly have a president who is open to the idea.

      I don’t know how you know you hate social injustice as much as Bennett. But I’d pay to watch you make the point with him. He’s not interfering with your enjoyment of the game. You’re letting it happen to you.

      The Seahawks and football are still the same, but if you have to be in political/social agreement with the athletes/teams, you are going to have a lot of free time on Saturdays and Sundays. I hope you are as strident about the woman-beaters Jerry Jones likes to hire as you are about the Seahawks’ political stances.

  • SoDo Slayer

    Real people do as Bennett and Kaepernick have done. Boston Tea Party ? ! Tradition. Get over it. These are human beings not corporations or owners that are either fearful of their fans or the business repurcussions of acknowledging the correctness of Bennett and Kaepernick’s actions. These are real men standing up for their communities and families. How can you fault them for that ? !

    • art thiel

      Fortunately, no league has interfered with the protests. But neither can teams be forced to hire someone they perceive will bring unnecessary problems.

      • SoDo Slayer

        “At-will” employment in the State of Washington. NFL and players union probably a little more complicated I suppose. But, yes, why take on an unncessary problem. Say, maybe that applies to an NBA relationship with the City of Seattle . . . unnecessary problem.

  • Kirkland

    Easiest solution: Unless it involves a championship, the World Cup, or a national holiday, don’t play anthems before games. You remove a political action, which should please those who say they don’t like politics in sports (yes, playing the anthem is a political action), and the game starts sooner. This is the norm worldwide outside of North America, and you rarely hear people demanding an anthem; they just want to get the game going.

    Heck, when overseas soccer teams play friendlies versus MLS teams here, they even request that we NOT play their national anthem. The players are just used to running onto the field, hearing the whistle, and playing within a minute; standing around for four minutes for two anthems drives them bananas. And they’re no less patriotic/jingoistic than we are, they just feel that an anthem before a friendly or regular season game is overkill.

    • art thiel

      I’ve made a similar point before: The anthem is an anachronistic custom not relevant to either proof of patriotism nor the playing of domestic games. Anthems can be a part of international festivals, but domestically it politicizes the non-political.

  • Joe Clark

    I applaud Bennet for taking a stand and Art for an eloquent article. Fighting racism and bigotry is probably never ending but if the silent majority don’t stay silent it will hopefully take away the platform the racists and bigots have come to use in recent times. As a veteran, I was proud to serve to protect a free society that empowers people like sonnet to take a stand for the greater good.

    • art thiel

      Joe, you make an important point: Military service helps protect the rights Bennett exercises, and he is respectful of it. But military people know better than most the folly of unchecked government. Those who served in Vietnam became important voices in explaining how the war was unjust and futile. Shamefully, the truth-tellers were nevertheless scorned by many ill-informed, love-it-or-leave-it civilians.

  • Will Ganschow

    During the Vietnam War, I and many others sat at sporting events during the playing of the National Anthem. This expresses a sense of shame about the actions of those chosen to represent me. The tenets of our national organization were formed by humans, not some deity. They had the wisdom to incorporate the right to protest in the best interests of the greater good. Protesting in the interest of liberty and equal opportunity is not the same as protesting in the interest of selfish bigotry. I’m very proud of Michael Bennet steeping forward. I’m also very proud of the responsibility and discernment that the Seahawks organization has shown in evenhandedly supporting Bennet while making it clear that their organization has room for differing points of view.
    There is a piece about Bennet over at the CBS site. The comments following are heavily laced with expressions of intolerance and racism. Glad to see that at least some of the discussion here makes an attempt to be open.
    Nobody likes to be dismissed. Most of us have had to find our way out of some pretty dark limited places that were imposed by the society into which we were born. We have found our way out of some of that by hearing the respectful expressions of people like MB, like MLK. Each of us owes it to those we hope to see “wake up” to express what is true for us respectfully and with as much patience as we can muster.
    Thanks Art for another thoughtful forum.

  • Matt Kite

    Good thing we live in a free country where compulsory genuflection to a flag, anthem, or ritual is not the law of the land. Go, Michael Bennett! You’re no one’s gladiator.

  • Kirkland

    Just thinking, Art. If you couldn’t use your journalism skills for sports, what subject would you have liked to cover? Given the way you’ve covered the not-entirely-sports topics like this one, I could see you as an investigative reporter or political columnist.