Coach Pete Carroll said social activism took a toll on his players, especially in the loss at Tennessee. He claimed players eventually moved away from the topic: “Too taxing.”
Pete Carroll offered assurance that rumors he wanted to retire were untrue. He’s also confident that John Schneider will remain Seahawks general manager and not pursue a vacancy with his hometown team in Green Bay. He said CB Richard Sherman, while healing well from surgery to fix an Achilles tendon tear on his right leg, will undergo ankle surgery on the left leg to remove bone spurs that will take four to six weeks to heal.
But the most interesting thing the Seahawks coach said Tuesday, during a 37-minute press conference at team headquarters to wrap up a playoffs-free season, was that many players were so impacted by the pressure of responding to the national controversy over pre-game social protests that it affected play in one game, and players subsequently wanted to get off the subject during the season.
“I did find out that throughout the course of the year, guys didn’t want to stay on the topic,” he said. “It was too draining, it was too deep . . . It was taxing. It’s something to not be forgotten this football season. It was part of it.”
The game in question was a 33-27 loss in Nashville Sept. 24 to the Titans when both teams stayed in the locker room instead of standing on the sidelines for the national anthem. The game was the first after President Trump called players who kneeled or sat during the anthem “sons of bitches” and should be fired.
“I think it had an effect on a lot of teams and a lot of players,” he said. “That was an extraordinarily heated time. I think that was a different amount of emotional output that occurred before the game, and it looked like it, the way we played. It looked like it took its toll.”
The team was en route from Seattle when the news broke about Trump’s remarks. It prompted intense meetings at the team hotel, something Carroll endorsed.
“We couldn’t avoid it,” he said. “We needed to face it and had to deal with it. (Titans players) called us up and (and were told) we’re going to (sit out the anthem). And they said, ‘OK, we’ll do that too.’ Whether they went through the same process or not, I don’t know, but I know that we did.
“Honestly, if I could have done something about it, I would have. I don’t think there was anything . . . we needed to face it, it was too real. Real-life stuff here that needs to be talked about and needs be connected with throughout the course of the football season.”
Carroll didn’t attribute the loss to the distraction, and said the volatile circumstances subsided.
“I thought we did OK after that,” he said. “I thought we handled it well. But you could see that guys didn’t want . . . there was still some aftermath. It was just that real. More so to some people than others. But, I took it very personally. I was trying to be there and be available to help us get through it and make sense of it.”
Independent of the Trump-fueled controversy came the news that DE Michael Bennett had been detained and handcuffed briefly, then released by Las Vegas police after a disturbance in August following the Mayweather-McGregor boxing match. Security photos backed Bennett’s claim that he was handcuffed and forced down on a sidewalk by an officer who held a gun near his head.
Bennett, who was never charged, claimed he was racially profiled, a claim disputed by police, who said Bennett fled despite orders to stop.
Asked whether he thought Bennett’s performance was impacted, Carroll said, “Well, would it have affected yours? Think about what he went through. It wasn’t just like on a small-scale, personal deal. It went nationwide. He did his best to handle it and it’s all he could do. Whether it had an impact, talk to Mike.
“That affected a lot of guys because the truth hit home. It affected a lot of our fans. We heard from all kinds of people that wrote in and contacted Mike and contacted us about it, because they never really saw the situation until they saw it with someone they cared about. They cared about Mike and they heard Mike was on the ground with a gun was to his head . . . and he was an innocent bystander. How could that not have an impact?”
The episode was felt around the team.
“He’s a big personality around here,” Carroll said. “He worked as he could to try put it to rest. We’re so connected that we feel each other’s ups and downs and ins and outs. That’s how we are. We’re that tightly wired.
“That’s not an excuse. That’s just what the facts of what was going on, and it was real.”
While some would argue that all NFL teams were impacted, few had so many prominent players who had activist roles in the national debate, and were not threatened with discipline by an owner who didn’t share their views. In fact, independent thought and action by players are encouraged by Carroll.
“I think it’s a value to all of us to search and find out what our truths are,” he said. “Because the closer these guys can get to the truth of who they are and what they’re all about, the better performer they’ll become, the better teammate they’ll become as well. That’s kind of part of our thinking.”
Regarding the more familiar matters of football, here were other key points addressed:
Leading the NFL in penalties: “My biggest regret is how the penalties factored into our season. We’ve been in this situation before and we’ve been able to overcome the issues, and our style of play didn’t affect us. This year it was more of a factor. Our margin (of error) wasn’t such that we could endure it as well. That’s a major aspect that has to change. I’m clear on how I’m going to go about that.”
On whether DE Cliff Avril and SS Kam Chancellor will return from serious neck injuries: “I shouldn’t say any more than, we don’t know yet. I don’t know what to tell you there. Both those guys are marvelous people and competitors. We’d love to see them through the rest of their career.”
On having one rushing touchdown by a running back: “Yeah, that’s terrible. It just shows you if you can’t run it with authority it’s just going to show up (in the red zone) and that was really indicative, unfortunately . . . we really made a concentrated effort to go back and recapture (the run game) this year and we were on it and ready to go and it just didn’t come together for us.”
On the potential return of pending free agent TE Jimmy Graham: “We’ve talked to him. We love Jimmy and we’d love for him to be with us.”
Whether there’s reason to think FS Earl Thomas won’t be back: “Earl had a terrific year, a really good year. Marvelous job recovering from his injury. Shocked us with his return, but I shouldn’t have been shocked with how competitive he was . . . Earl had some media glitches along the way here (laughs). But that’s not in his wheelhouse right there. He’s a ballplayer.”