BY Art Thiel 06:48PM 04/12/2018

Thiel: Bennett’s book helps explain balk at Kap

A new book explains how disrupted were the Seahawks ahead of a game lost at Tennessee. A potential replay perhaps is why Seattle’s interest in Kaepernick has cooled.

Michael Bennett and Colin Kaepernick chat after a Seahawks-49ers game. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

On the surface, Thursday’s news that the Seahawks passed on a chance to work out a player because of his politics looked to be one of the more astonishing developments of the off-season. And since that player was QB Colin Kaepernick, it’s astonishing on another, purely football,  level.

As most everyone around the NFL knows, coach Pete Carroll is in the vanguard of coaches who permits freedom of expression, believing that respecting a player’s individuality has benefits for the player as well as the team, from a standpoint of recruiting.

So when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday that the Seahawks a couple of weeks ago put off a previously booked workout for Kaepernick when he declined to say whether he would stand or kneel for the national anthem, the double-takes were cartoon-ferocious.

A year earlier, when Kaepernick was a free agent following a tumultuous 2016 season when he became an object of national controversy for kneeling to protest police shootings of unarmed African American men, the Seahawks invited him to talk about being Russell Wilson’s backup. No workout ensued, but the Seahawks were the only team known to interview a player who subsequently has sued the NFL, claiming teams colluded to blackball him.

Kaepernick, 30, has not played since he bought himself out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers, whom he led to a Super Bowl.

Since then, things have changed.

Many more players in 2017 replicated Kaepernick’s protest, especially after drawing the ire of President Trump, who, as part of his plan to help provoke national division, berated kneeling players, saying Sept. 22 that anyone who knelt or sat during the anthem was “a son of bitch” who should be fired.

On the following Sunday, protests erupted around the league. Often in the forefront of national activism, the Seahawks were in Nashville for a game against the Titans and spent parts of Friday and Saturday in long meetings to discuss an appropriate response to Trump’s condemnations.

The Seahawks decided to stay in the locker room during the anthem, and crafted a public statement:

As a team, we have decided we will not participate in the national anthem. 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 in continuing to work towards freedom and equality for all.

Players later spoke generally about the difficulty in reaching consensus prior to a game they lost 33-27. But it took until Carroll’s season-ending press conference Jan. 2 for someone to admit how distracting were the events of that weekend.

“I really do think it had an effect,” he said. “I think it had an effect on a lot of teams and a lot of players. It was an extraordinarily heated time. I think that was a different amount of emotional output that occurred before the game. It looked like it the way we played; it looked like it took its toll. We had gone through the whole process in doing what we did. We needed to do it, and we couldn’t avoid it. We had to face it and we had to deal with it.

“The other team called us up and said, ‘What are you guys going to do?’ They said ‘OK, we’ll do that, too.’ I don’t know if they went through the same process that we went through or not. Honestly, if I could’ve done something about it, I would’ve. I don’t think that there was anything but needing to face it; it’s too real.”

A more descriptive account is now available in former Seahawks star Michael Bennett’s new book, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable. 

Published last week with co-author Dave Zirin of The Nation, Bennett shed light on the intensity and fractiousness of the meetings.

On our team, it wasn’t easy to get to (a common direction). The day before the game was an emotional discussion. Everybody was expressing their feelings, talking about what they’d been through emotionally, physically and spiritually over the previous twenty-four hours, and some people had different ideas about the protests. Trying to help us all understand was not easy, and conversations definitely got heated. I can’t even say that we truly came together. We talked about all kinds of things we could do, and in the end, we had about 75 percent of the team buying into the locker room plan.

A big group of us worked on the statement, crafting every word. Different people picked apart and wrote certain sentences or pointed out what they wanted changed. There’s an expression, “A horse by committee is a hippopotamus,” but I thought we ended up with a pretty cool hippopotamus.

Bennett went on to praise Russell Wilson, who spoke in favor of the protest, writing that the normally politically correct Wilson’s clarity of message and conviction impressed many of his teammates.

Bennett since has been traded to Philadelphia and also has been arrested because of a 14-month-old incident at the Super Bowl in Houston which he was charged with shoving and injuring an elderly female security worker who was trying to deny him field access. So the book tour is temporarily interrupted.

None of that changes his account that player divisions in September were real, underscoring Carroll’s belief that the game outcome was impacted by the Seahawks’ distractions. The Titans were reported to have had little in the way of meetings, and merely followed the Seahawks’ lead.

Given that context, it is more understandable why the Seahawks put a pause on the decision to work out Kaepernick. As much as Carroll and many Seahawks players support Kaepernick’s principled stand, they experienced first hand the disruption that the “too real” world can have on game preparation.

National reports said that Kaepernick’s indecisive answer about whether he would stand for protests caused the Seahawks to reconsider, although sources reportedly said the door was not closed.

But the Seahawks know that if Trump makes another reckless comment in September, Kaepernick in a Seahawks uniform will become a magnet for media that would eclipse the team and the game.

No team, player, coach, owner or lawyer in the NFL has figured out how to manage the players’ silent, peaceful gesture so that it doesn’t provoke backlash among fans who believe the protest is against the anthem or Trump. Some say the resentment was a big contributor to a nearly 10 percent decline in the NFL’s TV ratings in 2017.

Even players are divided on the future of the protest. Some more pragmatic players support the NFL’s decision to contribute $90 million to a social justice initiative that would fund programs to combat social inequality. Others think the acceptance of the money is a sellout to get players to abandon the protest.

Largely ignored in the debate is the fact that the anthem at sports events already is an injection of a political statement in a supposedly non-political environment. The widely accepted custom of the anthem is likely disrespected far more by boorish, drunken fans than players seeking to make a non-disruptive point.

Overshadowed by the social/political consequences of a potential Kaepernick hire is a pertinent football question:

Since Carroll said a year ago that the reason Seattle passed on Kaepernick was that he wants to be a starter when the Seahawks already had one, what has changed?

Either it’s Kaepernick’s mind, or the Seahawks’ belief that Wilson might no longer be the starter.

Seahawks GM John Schneider said at the NFL combine that the Seahawks had no untouchables. Many took that as mere rhetoric that didn’t include Wilson.

But with Wilson’s contract expiring after the 2019 season, and the 2018 QB marketplace already reaching near the $30 million average annual salary level, the Seahawks have to ask whether they can devote so much money under the salary cap to a single player, no matter how good/beloved/successful.

The draft is two weeks away, and the Seahawks still don’t have a second- or third-round pick in a field loaded with up to five good QB prospects forecasted in numerous mock drafts to be taken in the first round.

Not saying a trade is happening, or even rumored. But if a veteran QB with Super Bowl experience can be had for a one-year, free-agent minimum salary, and his successor can be taken in the first round of the draft, the player-personnel world opens up for the Seahawks.

Perhaps if they knew Kaepernick will stand, the Seahawks might have to think about a bold leap into the future.

 

 


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YourThoughts

  • Ron

    Pete didn’t say a year ago that Colin “wants to be a starter.” Pete said Colin “IS” a starter. That’s different in my opinion.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DFBGbAPq2k

  • DonMac

    As much as I respect and admire Russell Wilson for all that he’s done for the Seahawks, the fact remains that the salary cap makes it impossible for a successful team to keep their top star players by paying them what they would command on the open market. It’s not fair but it’s reality. Trading Russell Wilson would be tantamount to Michael Corleone telling a co-hort , and I’m paraphrasing, “It’s not personal, it’s business!” Such is the NFL today and to me trading Wilson and bringing in a capable quarterback like Kaepernick as a short-term replacement as Art suggests is good business if you want to win in the NFL.

    • art thiel

      Agonizing as it would be to fans, a Wilson trade now, in his prime, would avoid what happened with Sherman (too high a price last year, zero return this time) and Chancellor (extension to a third contract but injured in its first year, stuck with two more).

      I’m not advocating it as a must-do, because I don’t know the market for someone so expensive after 2019. But the possibility has to be seriously considered.

      • Husky73

        Wilson is going to get his money whether it is from the Seahawks or another team. Why can/could another team manage his salary against their cap, but not Seattle? Why is it a given that Seattle cannot or will not afford him?

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    Art , I very seriously thank you for an intelligently written , thoughtful article that underlines the reason for the gesture in the first place – “to protest police shootings of unarmed African American men” . Somehow that whole thing seems to have been overlooked in the wake of the kneeling controversy .

    Apparently Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem at a football game is a far bigger deal than a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man in the back 7 times as he runs away , then planting his taser next to him as he lays dying . All caught on cell phone video . People’s priorities baffle me sometimes ..

    • art thiel

      People who are not inspired to care about understanding motivations can simply conflate the symbolic act into an anti-American screed. It’s easier.

      Thanks for the good words.

  • ReebHerb

    I wonder if Mr. Thiel’s hero the world class ultra globalist leftist thief and liar, Hillary, would have made comment if she had won the electoral college? The Foundation can still support the cause. $100 for me. $1 for you.

    • art thiel

      No idea what you’re talking about, Herb. Please try harder.

      • John M

        I was gonna say ha ha ha . . . but I won’t

    • Husky73

      This got ugly……

      • art thiel

        This got normal.

    • Husky73

      Hillary’s Foundation got 4 star and “Excellent” ratings from nonprofit industry watchdogs. Trump’s Foundation was shut down by the state of New York, just prior to the $25 million payout ordered to and agreed upon from Trump’s fraudulent university. This came about around the same time Trump continued to hold that he would release his income tax (after “a routine audit”) and when David Dennison’s lawyer paid a porn star $130,000 in hush money.

  • DB

    The other reports I’ve seen have said that the Seahawks asked Cap what his plan was, not specifically if he woul kneel or not. I’d certainly concede that whether or not he would be planning to kneel would be part of his plan, but what I’ve read indicated that his response was that he didn’t have a plan. In other words, he offered no clear thinking on how he would handle the inevitable attention. If I were the Seahawks, I’d pass too.

    More than anything, Cap just keeps impressing me as not being very smart. If you want to protest, you might want to do it in a way where is doesn’t take people 2-3 games to figure out you are protesting. Then, when finally asked about what you are doing, you might want to be able to better articulate your message than mumbling something vague about “injustice”. And, you might want to consider where you stage your protest. In your press conferences you have everyone’s attention. During the anthem, the focus and discussion ends up being on anthem-sitting, etc., instead of what you are protesting. Dumb. Then you opt out of your contract, leaving a few million on the table, because you think some other team is going to snap you up. As you then make yourself available, you make it clear that you only will consider a role as a starter, thereby eliminating consideration by a bunch of teams that might have been willing to sign you as a backup. Including Seattle. Then, when you don’t get much attention, you decide to sue the league for collusion. -A lawsuit that you are very unlikely to win and that adds more baggage to the trunkful you are already hauling along. And, you end up sitting out a year, rusting whatever skills you left with.

    One thing the NFL has always impressed me with is the fact that teams want to win above all else. If they think a guy can help them win, even one game, the have shown that they will put up with a lot of BS. See; Terrell Owens, Greg Hardy, etc. Clearly, teams don’t think Cap is all that. But, he seems too self-absorbed to get that his expectations of position and pay don’t match up with what teams think, and that suing them is only helping to scuttle any opportunity.

    Whatever his talent, I’d want a QB that shows a little more intelligent thinking.

    • art thiel

      I agree that he’s made multiple missteps that have damaged his cred, making him an easy target for those eager to dismiss him. In hindsight, his solo gesture finally spotted by a media member thrust him abruptly into a national controversy for which he was not prepared.

      The fact that he couldn’t offer a way to work with the Seahawks on maintaining his activism without the kneel/sit-down suggests either a highly principled commitment to his beliefs and/or an absence of effort toward a pragmatic strategy.

      Carroll tried his best to manage the unmanageable situation of September’s protest. But no coach could manage such spontaneous combustion. He knows he can’t let that happen again.

      • DB

        Great point on Carroll’s outlook now. I support the hell out of what Cap is protesting, and respect him for making a stand. However, for the poster child on how to go about all this, smartly, we need look no further than our own Doug Baldwin.

        • John M

          A-men, baby. I’ve said the same. The uproar caused by all this kneeling, etc., on game day is never going to get them where they think they’re going – and I’m talkin’ at you too, Mr. Bennett. Of course cops should receive more enlightened training and be prosecuted in a federal court for improperly using their weapon to kill someone, and certainly some should never be allowed to put on a uniform, and we could say the same of politicians that use their positions as ATM’s and vote for wars that kill millions.

          There are more effective, intelligent strategies, such as taking the NFL’s 90 mil (as a starter kit) and giving it to people like Baldwin. The hammer should go to those who know how to use it most effectively.

          And furthermore, good words, Art . . .

          • art thiel

            John, the uproar has gotten protesters a lot. It has to start by making people uncomfortable, by calling attention to things many of us don’t want to see. The NFL has responded at least by throwing money at the problem, and it has you and I talking.

            Remember too, that this was an organic reaction to a long-running injustice, not an organized plan agreed upon by all. It is uneven and fractured, easy to second-guess. But Baldwin is among the brightest athletes in pro sports, and he’s doing his best to navigate the storm.

          • John M

            Do not disagree with your sentiments, Art, – in fact share them – but San Francisco and Seattle are two of the most non-racist cities in the country, and a good percentage of the people against this sort of thing on game day resent Bennett, et al, because they themselves have actually participated in city and neighborhood activities to further unite all races, and many work with and employ what can hardly be called minorities in this area. They have a right to take Bennett’s attitude as an insult – this is not about racism. We’ve got all 5 races and you know you can see them on any day anywhere in Seattle.

            I lived 5 years in a southern city as a kid, I know what real racism looks like – before the sixties. It was a shock to see and hear some things then, yet I had a school friend that was “Mulatto,” and he was afraid to be seen with me on the streets.

          • Nate G

            John M- I am sorry you experienced such blatant racism. Sometimes racism can be deceiving as it can hide in many subtle actions and comments. Seattle is a good city, but still is very segregated (just view the demographics of NE Seattle). With segregation comes ignorance of others, their views, and their struggles. Facing our own biases and issues is very difficult and humbling to do. I believe that is what Michael Bennett is attempting to help us all do (including himself). I hope more of the city, and other places, engage in uniting activities like you mentioned and bravely face their own biases, fears, and vulnerabilities.

          • John M

            Nate, thanks for your thoughtful reply. You’re right about the deceptions of racism, many people don’t want to admit it to themselves. It may have been that I moved around so much as a kid into so many cultures that racism simply didn’t make sense to me. In my teens I often worked with older and more experienced Black men, and I learned from them just like anyone else that knew more than me, and I came to understand their humor, which always seemed to have an edge.

            We should consider that demographics can be misleading. All cultures and races (the majority) tend to prefer similar people around them, and that is used by the race/culture isolationists in their quest. As for NE Seattle, I’m not sure what you mean, but just north of there, in Shoreline, it has become predominately Asian and this is an issue for many.

          • Nate G

            Sounds like you have had a wealth of diverse experiences in many locations that have helped shape you into who you are today. Thank you for sharing that.

            I live in ne seattle. From my experience the demographics ring true as it is almost all white. Any community event I have been to in the area did not being the diverse unity that you mentioned. I wish it did and I got to experience that. Instead I see local newsletters that tell people their maids and landscapers are secretly trying to Rob them. It’s that subtle racism I see. I wonder if this comes from lack of experience and relationships you have grown through.

  • tor5

    Excellent article, but it kind of makes my head explode. From the eternal American struggle over race, to wrenching locker room drama when giant alpha males disagree, to how the Hawks navigate a rebuild without ever stopping to rebuild. The thing that stands out for me though is what Russell Wilson brings to the mentality of the team. With or without Kap or the anthem controversy, there will be inevitable non-football challenges and a need for respected players who can promote peace. In all the calculations of the QB marketplace and Wilson’s value, someone needs to recognize what’s not on the stat sheet. The guy is gold, and his symbiosis with Carroll is invaluable.

    • art thiel

      It’s true. As I wrote before, the axis of owner/coach/QB is vital to long-term NFL success, and the Seahawks have had it. But events have overtaken the Seahawks. Injuries, age, contracts, all at once.

  • WestCoastBias79

    Great article, now I’m going to comment flippantly. As someone from Seattle who lives in Los Angeles but flies up for 4-5 games a year (great excuse to see family without paying holiday airfare) and is on the season ticket waiting list, I was really hoping for a Kap signing so the MAGA brigade from outside King County would give up their seats in protest, even if it would probably make the place a bit quieter (Middle aged blue collar males make about 4X the noise as software engineers=science.). I’ll miss Verner from Arlington at our tailgate (he’s a great guy who makes a mean chili and lots of noise), and Dale from Tacoma (great home brewer), but I’m sick of the secondary market hustle.

    • rosetta_stoned

      Bigot much?

      • WestCoastBias79

        If you’re referring to my comment that blue collar men are louder than software engineering, science doesn’t lie. If you don’t think the MAGA brigade will give up their tickets in mass protest to a Kap signing, I guess they’re as hypocritical as I’ve always suspected. As far as where they come from and who they voted for, it’s demographics. Verner makes good chili, Dale makes good beer and we consider each other friends even though we voted for different people. We actually agree on more stuff than we disagree, but if they’re going to drop their season tickets to take a stand, I’ll gladly snap them up.

        As far as bigot? Well, Mr. Stoned, nah. Or to quote Inigo Montoya, I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

        You know what they say, it’s not a real internet comment until an anonymous avatar with a marijuana reference goes all ad hominem on you.

        • art thiel

          Eager to hear from Dale and Verner about their views of you and your estimation of their depth of care about Kap.

          • WestCoastBias79

            Dale and Verner both find it funny–we’ve had this discussion. Granted, I painted with broad strokes, but I kind of prefaced that I was about to. They give me crap for being a metropolitan snowflake–which I kind of am.

            Flippantly: frivolously disrespectful, shallow, or lacking in seriousness; characterized by levity.

            Some levity and humor between disparate groups goes a long way toward the ceasing of howling at each other and getting to become friends, which creates empathy. Ironically, we’re all (as in my tailgate) on the same side when it comes to what Kap is protesting, we’re just at odds on the actual protest. I now realize that it was naive to post an inside joke among friends on the interwebs and expect people to be in on it, especially when we’re so used to beating each other over the head.

            I’ll show myself out.

    • art thiel

      Your sweeping generalities about geography, demographics and passion aren’t as funny as you think.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Yawn.

    • art thiel

      Poor rosetta. So put upon by the unwashed . . .

  • PokeyPuff

    Never thought i would say this but I think the “trade Wilson” discussion has not received enough thought and consideration amongst Hawks media and fans. Thanks for bringing it up Art. He is a great guy and a fine talent, but bottom line does he really fit Pete and John’s system? Especially at 30mil?

  • Ron