One of the most important and unique traits of the Pete Carroll and John Schneider-era Seahawks has been the way the team has embraced individualism. So long as players express themselves in a manner that doesn't hurt the team or its goals, Carroll is not only OK with players being themselves, he strongly encourages it.
Sometimes that manifests itself in little ways such a relaxed dress code on the road, but other times it includes very weighty, non-football topics, including how the team would approach the National Anthem last year when players around the league were protesting in various manners, and how there would be follow-through to that gesture.
"We have done this for a long time, we celebrate the uniqueness of our players in every way that we can as long as they toe the line and fit in with this football team," Carroll said. "We are not scattered in our views, we are not disconnected. We are a very connected group and I think we have demonstrated that over the years. But the same token, these young men are, they're growing up and they're trying to find their message, they're trying to find their heart, and I couldn't support that more. I think, when we do connect with who they are and what they're all about, I think we can help them go farther."
Knowing that about the Seahawks, it came as no surprise that two days after Michael Bennett sat during the National Anthem Sunday, then eloquently explained why after the game, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as well as receiver Doug Baldwin strongly expressed support for the Pro Bowl defensive end.
"Michael has really dedicated the last few years of his life to try to understand what's going on around the world," Carroll said. "He has traveled everywhere to try and understand people's issues and concerns. It has really captured his heart, and he has really turned his focus to doing good work, and helping people, and doing everything he can for things that he thinks where he can help. I support the heck out of his concerns and his issues and all that."
Carroll did, however acknowledge that while "it's easy for me to support him in his issues," his preference is that "we should all be standing up when they play the National Anthem."
Carroll, Bennett and other players will have discussions this week and beyond about what comes next, but regardless of Carroll's thoughts on the form of protest, he will "continue to support him and help him in every way" in part because, more than almost anyone in the NFL or elsewhere, Bennett walks the walk when it comes to making a difference in the world.
"Mike's heart is in such a great place," Carroll said. "He has done so much work to try to understand where he can help. He is doing marvelous things in our community here, he has been overseas. He has been to Africa, he has been to Haiti, and he spent time in the Badlands, the Native American communities, so that he can understand. He has done a lot more work than most people would ever be able to do in a lifetime in trying to understand where he can help and what he could possibly do. He's a very unique person and very amazing guy."
Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin was at the center of last year's lengthy discussion on what to do during the Anthem, and helped spearhead the team's Build a Bridge Taskforce, which aims to bring together local law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. And while he was unaware of Bennett's plans Sunday, he was fully supportive of his teammate's actions and the message he shared after the game.
"His decision comes from a good place," Baldwin said. "I know Mike obviously as a teammate, a person and I know his heart and it comes from a good place. I thought he did an excellent job of kind of prefacing it in his response after the game. I was really proud of him. And I think we, as a society, should be proud. I think we take for granted the fact that in our country we have freedom of speech. I think we should be proud of any individuals who feel strongly about certain topics and certain situations that are happening in our country and are willing to put themselves out and be vulnerable about it and you know, and Mike has done that. To further his point, you know, there is things going on in our communities that people don't agree with. Who am I or who are we to tell individuals that are in these communities that their opinions or their thoughts are wrong? I firmly believe that the purpose and the thought behind everything is to better our society. It's not to be divisive or to be negative. I fully support Mike and his message and his thoughts, and definitely the way he went about it."
And while Bennett's protest was a solo act, it was not a divisive one in his locker room.
"If you are asking me if there is an issue with it in the locker room, there is none," Baldwin said. "Again, we operate as a family. We support our guys in whatever they want to do, whatever endeavors they set out to accomplish and to achieve. And Mike has always been one of those leaders in our locker room, we trust him. Again, he is a highly, highly intelligent individual who didn't just make a decision off the cuff. This is a decision, I know that knowing Mike, he has taken a lot of time and pride in making. So as a family within this organization we fully support what he has done."
Baldwin also noted that Bennett's protest, and those of other players before him last season, has led to conversations taking place that otherwise wouldn't have.
"The conversation is definitely being had more frequently," Baldwin said. "I think that if you just turn on the news, the conversation is being had all over the country. And it is turning into a situation where it doesn't matter your race, it doesn't matter your color, it doesn't matter your heritage, it doesn't matter your culture, the overwhelming and most profound message is that we claim to have equality and liberty for all people and some people feel that that is not the case. So maybe we should listen to them, maybe we should hear what their thoughts are, and see if we can't be better.
"I mean just having the conversation is progress. I think that was what the initial effort was to do, was to have this conversation. To bring it to the attention of the country that, 'Hey, there are things going on in society that aren't right, that people think aren't right, and we need to have a conversation about it.' And to me that is progress within itself. And yes, you guys know we have talked to a number of different people, and I think there are things going on that this will hopefully start to get the ball rolling here soon, but just like anything else it is going to take time."
Photos from the 11th day of 2017 Seahawks training camp practice at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center