Pete Carroll has never been a coach to ask his team to stick to football and avoid serious real-life topics such as racism and police brutality, which is why the Seahawks' virtual offseason program in recent weeks has included a considerable amount of conversation about the murder of George Floyd and everything that has taken place in this country ever since.
Three seasons ago, the Seahawks notably spent most of a Saturday in Nashville on the topic of race, inequality, demonstrations and a president who referred to a player who kneels during the anthem as a "son of a (expletive)." In retrospect Carroll thinks that may have cost the Seahawks a game, but he also doesn't regret letting his players take on something much bigger than football back then, just as he is three years later that it's on the team, the NFL and the rest of us to step up in the moment we're in now.
"We're at a time when the opportunity to create change is more available to us now," Carroll said. "Understanding how powerful it is to say that Black Lives Matter, and to stand behind that principle and that thought. What that means to us is just more clear than it was, as it was to our players, as it is to myself personally. As we all grow, we need to stay with it, we need to make something happen and we need to really work this thing until we get where it has to go to the right place where everybody's considered free and equal and just things are happening to where we all feel that we're living in the great world compared to what we are in right now. There has been a lot that has happened; the topic is not new. I think our ability to communicate and converse and approach concepts is really at a place that it's never been. And so, I'm grateful for that. I'm sorry to my heart that we're here because we're here, because the events that happened, but we've got to do something right now."
To make the changes necessary, Carroll is pleading with people to educate themselves and to vote and to protest and do whatever is needed to create a more just world.
"We have to do it by voting, that's one big way, but we have to get the right people in position to make the right choices so we can make the changes, because we have to get this done," Carroll said. "We have to make the changes. We don't have a choice. It's as simple as reading the newspaper, reading the internet, finding out what's going on around you, where can you support, what do you want to put your love behind, your money behind, and everybody do their part. It's going to take a collective. That's why the protests are so important, that the word is out there and everybody is aware and we need to continue to grow. This should be an ongoing protest of getting to the right place where everything is right and equal and just and all of that."
Carroll added that just agreeing with the message is no longer enough; action is required.
"Just being with it isn't good enough," he said. "Just being on board, that ain't good enough. We've seen that before, we've got to go… It's absolutely what has to happen. I feel like we're right in the middle of it, and we have to get activated, because we may have an opportunity to help more than some other groups would, and we're going to go for it. Our guys are committed and determined and we're all doing this together. It's an extraordinary time and we've got to make this really work for us. We've got to do the right thing."
Just as he said in past years when these conversations have come up, Carroll said that when it comes to the NFL's role in the fight for equality, the league needs to let players lead the way.
"Obviously we didn't get the message before when we had the chance to," Carroll said. "The message is the same message; we need to hear it better and hear it right as people that support the game and that love the game from the outside. That message comes from our guys, and we have to listen to them and grow with them and respond to them and make sure that we represent them. The NFL is as powerful an institution as there is in the country, and this freakin' league needs to stand up for the right stuff and make things move where we can make things move. We have a lot of power. Something happened and the next thing you know the president is commenting on it. We have the platform to do great stuff, well let's let our guys be in position to do that, and let's make sure that we support them and promote them. Black people know what's necessary, they've been living this live. It's white people that have to come on board and figure it out. We need our guys to speak on behalf of what is right and what is necessary…. We need to follow these guys, they know what's going on. They're coming from exactly the right place, they're coming from their hearts and coming from their experiences that they uniquely know, and they will teach us an extraordinary amount that will make it all come to life if we do it right."
Of course the topic of the NFL and the fight against racism is impossible to discuss without the role Colin Kaepernick played in getting the conversation going in 2016 when he sat, then later kneeled during the national anthem to protest racism and police brutality. The Seahawks brought Kaepernick in for a visit during the 2017 offseason, and had conversations with him again in 2018, but neither Seattle nor any other NFL team has signed him since that 2016 season.
Carroll explained that the Seahawks didn't sign Kaepernick in 2017 because they saw him as a starter and assumed another team would give him the chance to compete for that role, but looking back he wishes Seattle would have been the team to give him a chance.
"I figured he was going to wind up starting somewhere for sure, and it just didn't happen," Carroll said. "I regret that that didn't happen in some fashion, I wish we would have contributed to it, because the guy deserved to play. I thought at the time in our situation as a backup, I didn't feel it was right at that time. I had to make that football decision, it was about our team and the situation—we had our starting quarterback and all of that, it wasn't going to be the open competitive situation that I'd like to think all of our spots are, because Russ was such a dominant figure and all of that. That's what happened… When you look back, I felt like we missed the opportunity. As I look back at it, I wish we could have figured it out knowing what we know now and give him the chance, because I would love to see him play football all those years.
"I regret that we weren't the one way back when that just did it just to do it, even though I thought it wasn't the right fit necessarily for us at the time."
Asked if Kaepernick could still be an option, Carroll said the Seahawks like where they are with Russell Wilson and Geno Smith, but didn't entirely close the door on exploring that option: "We're kind of set up right now so football-wise it doesn't seem to fit us, but you know, there's a lot of time here, we'll see what happens."
Carroll was also adamant that the possibility of Kaepernick protesting during the anthem was not a factor in the Seahawks not signing him.
"There's been stuff in the media that, because we were concerned about him taking a knee or whatever—that never even came up in our conversations. That was never even an issue for us. That wasn't true. It was just things didn't work out and we moved on," Carroll said. "… That was never the issue. All I can do is tell you straight up, like every other word I've tried to say today as straight up as I can be, that was not the issue."