BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 06/10/2020

Thiel: Kap had the guts, Bennett had a moment

In his 2018 book, former Seahawks DE Michael Bennett recalls an encounter in Renton of protesters protesting the NFL players’ protests. Therein lies an idea.

Michael Bennett and Colin Kaepernick chat after a Seahawks-49ers game in 2016. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

New Seahawks RB Carlos Hyde Monday suggested that the NFL could demonstrate its new-found belief that black lives matter by ending the de facto exile of Colin Kaepernick. He elbowed the NFL hard in the ribs in 2016 to draw attention to police brutality and social injustice. Lo and behold in 2020, the league and America appear to get it now, although Kaepernick hasn’t played since.

“I think the NFL can start by signing Kap back,” Hyde said in a Zoom interview with Seattle reporters, his first since leaving Houston in free agency for a one-year, $2.75 million deal. “That’ll show that they’re really trying to move in a different direction. Because Kap was making a statement four years ago about what’s going on in today’s world, and the NFL didn’t bother to listen to him then.”

Beyond that, however, Hyde, who was with Kaepernick in San Francisco from 2014-16, is, as are many people, hard-pressed to come up with tangible action steps beyond the gesture.

“After that,”he said, ” I’m not really sure what the NFL can do.”

If Kaepernick, 32, wants to come back, and a team thinks he can help, that would be great. But if the NFL were to somehow force a team to employ him largely as a backup QB but also as a sort of national cultural symbol of sudden wokeness, the clumsy situation is destined to be untenable.

Every play he did or didn’t make, every move the club did or didn’t make, would be over-scrutinized for meaning. Every local and national story involving police and race would create demands for non-football interviews of Kaepernick. And since his teammates’ careers to some extent depend on winning games, the distraction would be noteworthy.

The chance is strong that things would deteriorate into something no one wants — tokenism.

But if Kaepernick remains perversely radioactive to the NFL, what can the league, its players and fans do — other than the NFL’s default position of throwing money to make problems go away — to make tangible progress?

I have an idea. Actually, it’s more of an experience Michael Bennett had that I’m suggesting might have some modest curative powers.

In 2018, the then-Seahawks defensive end wrote a book, along with Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation, called Things That Make White People Uncomfortable. It’s part memoir and full Bennett, funny, articulate and profane, but importantly a painful, poignant essay on being a black man in America — and one with a wife and thee daughters to keep his ass ever-so-slightly humble.

Bennett, a key member of Seattle’s Super Bowl champs, writes about the tumult around the Seahawks’ game in Tennessee on Sept. 24, 2017. Prior to the weekend, President Trump launched his race-baiting fusillade against players who knelt during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and social injustice — the Kaepernick touchstones.

In a speech, Trump called the protesters sons of bitches who should be fired.

Instead of game prep, the Seahawks spent Saturday at the hotel talking, and arguing, among themselves, about how to respond. By Sunday, they released a well-crafted statement that didn’t address Trump but said as a team, they would sit out the pre-game ceremonies and continue to “oppose those who would deny our most basic freedoms.”

The Titans? They were bewildered, but when they heard the Seahawks’ plan, said, “Us, too!” and stayed in their locker room as well.

The Seahawks lost, 33-27, and the episode became a big part of the national protest  story Monday. Heading the next week to practice at the team facility in Renton, Bennett was about to turn into the driveway when he saw a small group of fans, including self-described military veterans, carrying flags and signs protesting the players’ protest.

Bennett, who comes from a military family, paused. Then he shut the engine off and got out. Here from the book is his description of events:

—————————————–

I’ll admit it was a little scary, because I didn’t know if they had guns. But I saw them protesting, and I was just like, “Fuck it, let’s talk.” At first they were shocked. I don’t think they were expecting to be talking with players when they showed up to the facility with their flags and signs, but it was cool. We just shared our experiences. We talked back and forth about where we disagree, yet how we want the same things, and what the flag means to them. They said I could never understand what they’ve been through as military veterans. But they also admitted, with a great deal of humility, that they could never understand what I’ve been through as a Black man in America. I also explained — and I can’t repeat this enough — that these protests aren’t about the military, and they should not believe anyone who says otherwise. The vets said they understood all that; they just wished we didn’t disrespect the flag. I told them we did not disrespect the flag — we’re trying to honor what the flag is supposed to represent. And, kind of like an after-school special, we expressed to one another how we could understand what it means to be human, with a need to protect our families.

Then another woman pulled up. She was bawling her eyes out because she was driving by and saw the protest signs and flags, and us talking with emotion. She said she was caught between the old and the new; she loved the Seahawks but didn’t want anyone in the military to feel bad. She wanted to respect the military and also support equality. We ended up talking for 20 or 30 minutes. Nice lady. I am glad she pulled over, for safety reasons alone. (Don’t ever sob and drive. That’s dangerous.)

But I was ready for it. Throughout this experience people have been coming up to me, very emotional, saying, “Thank you.” Black and brown people who have felt the sting of inequality; white people who are wrestling with these injustices for the first time, crying as if they’re newborn, angry at the world they’re seeing now that they’re out of the womb; and yes, vets who have said to me that military personnel are divided in their opinions as much as anyone else, and they didn’t want me to cave into the bullshit . . .

For all the people who say they hate me and want me out of this country — which my family’s blood and sweat built from the ground up — there are more people who sympathize with what we’re all trying to do, who want to see a better world.  I treasure this time, because it’s like water in a canteen, and in the future when my throat is dry, I’m going to remember all these people, and keep pushing forward.

—————————————–

Was a difference made that morning? Can’t know, except that Bennett will never forget it. But at this moment, the same can be said for the protests over George Floyd’s murder that have roiled many American cities and capitals around the world. And I think those Renton protesters enjoyed their pepper-spray-free experience more.

I like the idea of taking Bennett’s spontaneous sidewalk parley off the curb and making it a thing, sliding it into a meeting room in a library, or a church or a restaurant (should any of them open again).

I’d like to see Bennett, or any two or three Seahawks players who are comfortable public speakers, join up in a room small enough to not need a microphone or a podium. They would meet 15 or 20 people like those Bennett met: Skeptics willing to listen. Ideally, the crowd would include one law-enforcement person and one Snohomish County fella big of beard and belly, both unarmed and off the job.

Some rules are necessary: No one wears insignias of any sports team. No autographs. No selfies. No looking at phones. No fan drooling. No player scoffing. Also: No “handlers” from the team. No union managers. No politicians. No media to filter sentiments into a 30-second sound bite. No Zoom.

People to people. Face to face. Er, mask to mask. Once a week, for a season’s 16 weeks (if the other pandemic allows).

Is it too small to work? Maybe. But participants are allowed post-meeting to share their thoughts with the social media world. I’m betting on good news. Besides, we’ve been at this racial inequity thing for 400 years. Any progress is welcome.

Lots of details remain. But I’m certain of the name. I’d call these sessions what Bennett called his first one.

Fuck it, let’s talk.


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YourThoughts

  • BB46

    Is “tokenism” a real word?? Golly,,,,….
    Bennett (in my mind) has always been worth listening to. To me he has a lot of Charles Barkley in him. He speaks from his heart and has always seemed genuine. Never seemed to be all caught up in being politically correct. Would rather be correct.
    I can understand how people would believe that protesting during the national anthem may be considered disrespectful. But I also realize a protest doesn’t reach many people when done in your back yard.
    Great read again Art. Screw it,,,, lets have breakfast.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. Bennett is an original thinker and has a big heart. His temper gets in his way sometimes, but he may not be alone in that. Kap’s original protest did need better explaining, but he originally was acting quietly on his own, not leading a national crusade.

      • BB46

        That is very true about Kap. I never really thought about that.
        Question Art. And I asked this late on another story. I read awhile back that Kap wasn’t really out of the league because of the protest thing alone. There were questions about his accuracy? I would like to hear your opinion. What you have heard. I have seen what his legs could do and he can sure run the spud. I’m not smart enough to answer the other questions.

        • Archangelo Spumoni

          Mr. BB
          I am also no expert on any pro football situation like this, but it is a safe bet that the relief quarterback is about the 10th or 15th most important player on any roster. I refuse to buy that Kaepernick is not better than many 2nd string quarterbacks in the league.
          I don’t remember any believable yackage about his accuracy from his playing days but he has a career passer rating of 88.9.
          Your question is at the heart of the whole mess.

          • BB46

            I don’t understand where my question is the heart of the matter. I do remember some sports TV analytical shows talking about that awhile back but not lately. Personally I remember I thought he was a tough QB to face. I also know defenses tend to figure those things out in time. Such as Wilsons read option. Not as effective as it once was.

          • art thiel

            His football skills were part of the debate about his re-hire, and each passing season makes his re-hire less likely. But 32 is not old for a QB.

          • LarryLurex70

            That’s a fair assessment and exactly what I’ve been thinking.

          • art thiel

            See the Wapo link above.

        • LarryLurex70

          He’s not the first QB in history with questionable accuracy. Personally, I was never too impressed with his arm strength. But, again, he’s not the first there, either. That said – and, those are legitimate football-based concerns and criticisms – I’ll never be convinced that it wasn’t non-football-related issues that made him too hot for most GM’s to touch.

          • art thiel

            The league wouldn’t have settled Kap’s collusion lawsuit if its hands were clean.

          • Kirkland

            I remember Tim Tebow, who didn’t get a sniff after an impressive first season. A number of people thought it was a backlash against his religious right views, but football people pointed out a lack of fundamentals that his Heisman and rabbit-pulling playmaking papered over. Kaep may have weaknesses, but he is unquestionably better than Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles, and pretty much anybody Cleveland’s trotted out since Bernie Kosar.

          • LarryLurex70

            He’s going to have to swallow some pride and embrace the backup role at this point. That’s just real talk. I haven’t listened to/read Pete’s recent rehash of what happened when Kap was supposedly under serious consideration before, but having him compete with Smith for 2nd on the depth chart now wouldn’t be the worst idea for either side. If for no other reason than to make Geno earn it.

          • eyeroq

            “I was never too impressed with his arm strength.”

            His arm strength is not in question. He’s got a rocket launcher right arm. It’s his accuracy, specifically after he got past his first read, that limited his career completion percentage to under 60% and prevented him from taking his game to the next level. I only bring it up because you seem to be using the terms “accuracy” and “arm strength” as if they’re synonymous.

          • LarryLurex70

            Okay…
            So, what’s your point? I stated an opinion – which you quoted – and, you’re disputing my personal observation? Your opinion that “his arm strength is not in question” isn’t anything more than your own personal opinion, as far as I’m concerned. No more or less valid than mine or anyone else’s in this forum.
            You actually believe I’m too dumb to know the difference between accuracy and arm strength?

        • art thiel

          I believe I posted a response, but here again is a link to a Washington Post story than provides the comps that conclude he was among the middle of his contemporaries. (There’s a paywall; please spend a little to help keep journalism going).

          https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/sports/kaepernick-tracker/

      • LarryLurex70

        From what I recall, he was sitting during the anthem unnoticed until a woman posted a photo to social media of him doing it. I could be wrong, but, I don’t think it was really a big deal with too many people until then. That might’ve partially been what led to the dialogue with Boyer.

        • art thiel

          I believe a sportswriter spotted him on the pre-game bench, but he may have been tipped by social media. The writer’s post-game interview lit the match.

  • Tman

    Watched the movie Selma on Amazon last night. Amazon is standing with the black community by making films about their struggles available at no charge. Selma is about the beatings black and white protesters took just trying to get black men and women their constitutional right to vote.

    Police have been dressing in riot gear and attacking unarmed peaceful protesters with batons, pepper spray and anything else they want to try out, since1965. They beat the marchers on the Pettus bridge unmercifully.

    This time, lets keep up the protests until the police are disarmed, as they used to be and must be.
    Lets make sure Police and their commanders are tried, convicted and pay the price for the murders they commit and beatings they administer.

    Lets make sure every recommendation in Michael Bennetts’ plan is implemented.

    Its a good one. It will work.

    Now is a good time to get Michael Bennetts plan before the public and those administering public policy.

    • LarryLurex70

      I’d recommend watching Detroit next.That’s another informative one, despite the grumbling from certain factions about historical accuracy.

    • art thiel

      From macro to micro: A significant number of calls to police and 911 are mental health issues, for which police have minimal to no training, yet are expected to respond wisely every time. And now, because of covid-19, unemployment and racial politics, we are adding to the social stress.

      I know where I’d put some re-arranged funding.

  • Tman

    Colin Kaepernick has never been a disruptive force, except to other teams defenses.
    He has been a hero to millions since taking a knee in protest to police killing unarmed black men.

    He and Russell Wilson will make a great tandem for the Seahawks as they play into their forties.

    Muhammed Ali was stripped of his title and banned from boxing for refusing to fight people of color in Asia who never did him any harm.

    Ali came back after a 4 year layoff to reclaim his crown. Ali remains “The Greatest”.

    How many titles will the Seahawks win before the tandem retires in 10 years?

    • art thiel

      Wow. You have hired Kap and foreseen much success. Would you mind looking at my 401K and advising?

      • LarryLurex70

        Everyone needs a hype man.

      • Tman

        sell.

        Is there a better option for the Seahawks?
        Quoting Mr. Wilson, “He can play some ball.”
        Wilson is the best..yes, Watson, Mahomes et al are good copies, but Russell Wilson is the original..the master. Imagine if he had a backup good enough to win on a regular basis giving him an occasional breather.

  • tor5

    That’s a very cool story. I agree that “small” conversations can go a long way. When Kap first kneeled, I didn’t like it partly because I thought my bro-in-law, a vet, would be offended. But a few weeks later I talked to him about it, and he surprised me by saying he admired Kap for his guts and standing up (figuratively) for what he believed, and it was real and important. That conversation made me think much harder about what was going on.

    • Seattle Psycho

      As a bet also I have never felt any disrespect for kneeling during the anthem. Would I personally do it? No, but I don’t feel any protest, done peacefully is wrong. To enact change you need to get people’s attention. Four years ago most of the country did not get the message. Appears this time more people will be listening.

      • art thiel

        Bennett’s first quote in his book is from Bill Russell: “We have got to make the white population uncomfortable, because that is the only way to get their attention.”

    • art thiel

      That’s my point. It’s amazing what can happen when we listen without feeling we have to win an argument.

  • Tim

    Hell yeah! My 17 year old son asked if we could drive down from East Whatcom County to participate in Saturday’s protest at 11th and Pine. It was a day I’ll never forget full of righteous anger, defiance, and determination. Staring at lines of cops, their riot shields glistening in the sun in a crowd that was shouting everything but Kumbaya, I had a fear that things could easily spiral out of control. My son and I took pics and videos, and uploaded them to social media as they were unfolding. We left that evening, less than an hour after someone on the protest side apparently threw projectiles at the police which lead to a barrage of pepper spray and flash grenades among other things. On the way home, My son was fuming that some “friends” on social media were hating on him for his posts to which he said, “I’m losing friends and I don’t care.” I responded by telling him it’s good not to care what other people think, but those are the exact people he needs to be talking to….those are the conversations necessary to move things forward in a positive direction. I think he sort of gets it. I wanted to share this because I appreciate you you allow for this to happen on this site and don’t over-moderate when things get uncomfortable. When cool guy threatens gun violence on Democrats, that’s definitely a line that’s crossed, but even with that, you let it go with a comment. It takes guts Art. Thanks for doing your part to keep it real.

    • art thiel

      I appreciate the good words, Tim, and appreciate even more what you did with your son. You took a risk with him, letting him see, hear, smell and feel for himself, then deal with backlash when he stands for principle at the cost of friendships. It’s an experience a lot of white folks deny their kids, only to leave them unprepared to cope with conflicts as adults.

      I wrote about Bennett’s experience because his spontaneous willingness to risk his safety paid dividends, far as I can tell. Same with you.

      • Tim

        Thank you, Art. I’m so proud of my kids…his brother is fishing in AK but was dying to be there too. Morgan and I recorded this Lumineers’ song as a tribute to Black American victims of police brutality. Morgan who is 17 sings lead. At times he’s been almost inconsolable with grief, but so determined to do what he can to change the world. And, we’re going to keep coming to Seattle as often as we can in support of of Black Lives Matter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uztG66Fc1gY

  • jafabian

    Picture if Bennett, Doug Baldwin, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Marshawn Lynch were on the team right now. The statements they’d have.

    I don’t know what the Angry One has been doing but I thought he’d be fairly vocal right now. At least I haven’t heard from him. I know Wilson has been publicly supportive of Kap joining the Hawks but I’d be surprised if that happened. Just because the team has bigger needs.

    Press conferences should at least be more interesting than usual when the season kicks off. I expect teams to give players a platform to speak about current issues like they never have before. Possibly even creating a position within the organization to assist players in what to say and what to do to help those in need. This of course will be fodder for POTUS as he will most likely lob shot after shot from his Twitter account. Players need to rise above that IMO, unless they have a Rodney Dangerfield-like response that demands to be used. I mean, if you’re given a hanging curveball you gotta swing at it right? And there will be some for sure.

    Sherman made a great point how some owners have been silent during this time, like Jerry Jones, and could make a big impact if they’d speak up. I’m looking forward to see if that happens.

    • art thiel

      As Sherm points out, black voices are being heard, but it’s white employers who are capable of altering systemic racism. Trump will eventually be gone; what will be put in place to thwart the return of a smarter, smoother version?

      • LarryLurex70

        Don’t be so sure “Trump will eventually be gone.” If things don’t go his way in November, I really believe there’s a slim chance he might not leave. And, if/when he does go before a full 2nd term is up, he’ll do his best to burn the house down on his way out.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    Speaking of guts, never in 5,000 years did I think NASCAR would ever ban Confederate flags. YIKES—that will stir things up in the South.

    • art thiel

      NASCAR is aware that there is a new South that disdains the cling to the Confederacy. But many of them are reluctant to say so and reap the whirlwind. A cultural icon cutting ties with a sordid past is more capable of resistance. Remarkable guts, even if way overdue.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art!
    Fuck it – sign me up!

  • Kirkland

    My big worry: Some people will point to Bennett’s brush in the police in Las Vegas three years ago, and the various bodycam clips made public, to discount him. (I remember a right-wing sports talk host tweeting, “Michael Bennett lied to the police.”) It’s a similar fear I have with black NHL player Evander Kane. He’s made some forceful statements in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death; however, there are a few who will tune him out because he has a #MeToo allegation against him. How do we weigh the messages versus the alleged misdeeds of the messengers?

    • art thiel

      There’s always the Biblical retort about sinners casting the first stone.

      Kap said some unhelpful things that critics picked apart. FDR, MLK, JFK and Ali had critics pick apart their mistakes and personal lives. And Bennett has done regrettable things.

      All that can be asked of the living is that they hold themselves accountable, and continue to speak the truth — two things impossible for Trump to emulate.