For the second straight week, Michael Bennett sat on the Seahawks bench as the Star Spangled Banner played before a preseason game. But this time, the Seahawks defensive end was not alone.
Prior to Friday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings, Bennett again chose to sit during the anthem, as he said he would, only this week he was joined by teammate Justin Britt, who stood next to Bennett with a hand on his teammate's shoulder. Cornerback Jeremy Lane also stood by Bennett throughout the anthem, and multiple teammates joined him toward the end of the song.
"It was very touching for me, a very emotional moment to have that kind of solidarity from someone like Justin Britt who's a known leader in our locker room, and who's from a different part of America from me," Bennett said. "To be able to have that solidarity and be able to have somebody who's behind me and know somebody I really trust, and to be able to see him put everything on the line to support one of his teammates, that was a very special moment, and an emotional moment. For me, it was very touching and I'm very thankful to be able to have somebody in my corner like that, and I'm appreciative of him."
And Britt standing there with a hand resting on Bennett's shoulder was important not just because it was a team leader showing support for a teammate, but because it was a white player doing it. Last year and this year, several players around the league have taken part in demonstrations during the anthem to protest injustice and inequality in our country, but until this week, all of those players had been African American. In an interview on SportsCenter earlier in the week, Bennett said having white players get involved would "change the whole conversation." On Thursday, Philadelphia's Chris Long stood with his arm around teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who stood with a raised fist during the anthem, and on Friday it was Britt doing his part to change the conversation.
"It showed that unity is something that's super important, and solidarity," Bennett said. "As football players and athletes, we come on this field or court or baseball field or soccer field, and we come from different backgrounds, and in that moment, we support each other every single way. When it comes to off the field, to have that same kind of support is super important. It shows that no matter where you're from, to be able to have somebody from a different part of the country, a different race, and to be able to share moments where we agree that the things happening in Charlottesville, the things going on right now aren't acceptable. To have him do that, I think's it's going to give a lot of other players courage to be able to move forward and keep trying to share that message of love and message of unity, and to be able to build that bridge. I think it's about building that bridge to the other side and to be able to share our journeys together."
Britt said he and his wife discussed him doing something to support Bennett, then Bennett's comments about a white player joining "kind of triggered it in my mind, because I see what's going on, we all do, and we all have choices whether to be an example or be a follower. I always tell kids, 'Don't be a follower, be the one they're following.' Whether it's good or bad in some eyes, I feel like I'm just supporting my teammate, supporting why he's doing it and trying to encourage others."
Britt admits he doesn't have all the answers, but thanks in part to Bennett's demonstration last week, he is taking strides to better understand what's happening in the world, and he wants to support his teammate along the way and do his part to make a difference.
"I wanted to support him," Britt said. "I want to support what he's standing for and his beliefs. I'm not foolish, I'm from Missouri, I get things are different in that area than in some other areas. I'm not against what the flag means and veterans—my dad was in the Army—so I'm not putting any disrespect to them. I'm just trying to understand the issues, trying to educate myself more in that regard, and show support. I'm going to continue to try to understand what's going on in the world and why it's happening, because none of it's right, none of it should be happening. So I'm going to continue talking with Mike and help myself understand. I wanted to take the first step tonight, and that's what I felt like I did… I talked to him about it before to make sure it was all right with him, and of course it was. I feel like what I did, I believe in it, and I'm going to continue to educate myself and try to understand why things are going on.
"I don't see it as leadership, I see it as something bigger than the team, bigger than this organization, bigger than football, and definitely bigger than myself. You can say it's leadership, but I just did it because I support Mike. Being from Missouri and seeing things happening around the world that aren't right, I just felt like I wanted to take a stand and be with Mike, and hopefully what I did encourages others to go out and look at it and really see what's going on, not just be blind to it."
Bennett is thinking very big picture when it comes to his decision to sit during the anthem, saying, "The ultimate goal is to not have people judged on the color of their skin, not have racism, not have discrimination."
But he also understands that there are a lot of important smaller steps to reach that goal, including the work he does in the community and the work he encourages others to do in their own communities. And another step in that process are moments like the ones Britt had this week when the actions of a teammate opened up dialogue both at home and within the locker room.
"You get that start where people ask questions, then you get actions like what Justin did today," Bennett said. "People who want to change the way that they're thinking, people who want to change and recognize there are issues. That's the start. I think what he did will create a ripple effect to other people that might be a little cautious of having those conversations."
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll expressed support for Bennett during the week, and on Friday he said he was "really proud" of both Bennet and Britt.
"I think in this time that we're facing right now, this is more important than ever," Carroll said. "There's a lot of growth that needs to take place for us to accomplish the change that needs to be dealt with, and it's absolutely imperative that guys from both sides of the fence come together and learn and be open and support, and these guys are going to show you that. They're working at it, they understand that there are issues and concerns that we have difficulty talking about, but I know our team is working at it, and they're determined to try to make things better by the way they share their own connection and learn how to make statements and understand and be respectful towards one another.
"I particularly like that that was the illustration. It warmed my heart to hear that's what happened. Those guys have a lot of brains, they're thinking about it very seriously. This is not just some frivolous thing where somebody made a mistake and sat down. This is guys working at it, trying to figure out how to help and how to make some sense for other people too. We're just a football team, but our guys care and I'm really proud of them."
This photo gallery brings you right along the sidelines, showing you the player and coach reactions to Friday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.