The Seahawks didn’t come to a decision for how they would present “a unified front” quickly or easily.
It took weeks of discussion, which included player meetings in groups large and small, as well as meetings with Dr. Harry Edwards, a sociologist whose area of focus includes sports, family, race and ethnic relations, and former NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, before the Seahawks decided on their plan for Sunday’s National Anthem, during which they stood together with arms interlocked.
“It was on a unified front,” receiver Doug Baldwin said Sunday. “We wanted to do something together as a team. The statement that we’re making, is obviously we want to honor those lives that have been lost 15 years ago on this tragic day, and also honor those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom that we cherish. But at the same time, we’re standing for those lives that have fought for that freedom, we want to ensure that freedom and the security of justice for all people. It’s a situation for us where you’ve heard us, the message is very clear, you’ve heard us, and now we’re asking you to listen to our message. It’s as simple as that.”
For Baldwin and other players who talked after the game about what they referred to as a “demonstration of unity,” what matters now is not what the Seahawks did during National Anthem or what they might do before Sunday’s game in Los Angeles, it’s what they do to achieve their expressed goal of building a bridge between people and communities with differing viewpoints. In particular, the goal is to bring together local law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.
“Gestures mean nothing without follow-through,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “That’s what Harry Edwards said, and that’s what I agree with. People get confused thinking, ‘You’ve got to go out there and put on a show and make this gesture and make people aware of it.’ We’re more about action. We go out there in the community and help kids, we go into the inner city and try to impact them that way… We’re not geniuses, we don’t have every answer, but we try to help in our little way. My suggestion was, let’s influence everyone else to make a difference too.”
So what does follow-through look like to the Seahawks? For starters, it will mean meeting with local government and law enforcement leaders. Baldwin said the team has plans to meet with Seattle mayor Ed Murray, as well as police chiefs from departments around the state.
“There has to be change and progress,” Baldwin said. “Change is inevitable, change will always happen, but you have to apply direction to change, and that’s when there’s progress. Right now what we’re doing as a team, we have a follow through. The difference between a mob and a movement is a follow through. That’s what Harry Edwards told us when he came and talked to us for three hours about the situation that’s going on in our country right now. He said the difference between a mob and a movement is a follow through. So our team is united together to have a follow through. At this very moment, we’re scheduling meetings with the mayor of Seattle, with police chiefs across the state, and we’re discussing ways to just start discussion. That’s the first step, is to have communication. We need to know the perspective of other people. The greatest tragedy for any human being is going through their entire lives believing the only perspective that matters is their own. We need to break down those walls and barriers and get people to see that there’s perspectives outside of their own eyes.”
Added defensive end Michael Bennett, “Collaboration is one of the greatest things that a human being can do. To realize that people are different, but we can still work together. In any community it’s going to take everybody to build a bridge to build something great. Of course there’s social injustice all along the NFL, all along the United States and we understand that. But we understand that that should be open dialogue and people have to be able to listen, to be able to see what the change is. For us, we want to be able to build that bridge. The things that we already do in the community—it’s not like we just started doing this, a lot of us have foundations, a lot of us are working in the community—but what we want to do is work well with the people all around. We need everybody to realize that just because somebody is different, it doesn’t make you better than them, it just makes them a human being, and you’ve got to respect them and learn about them. We just want people to take the time to get to know somebody. Know their culture because when you know their culture, you understand that they’re different and you respect that. That’s what we want people to do, respect and try to change society.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has been a part of this process throughout with his players, including connecting them with Edwards—the two go back to Carroll’s time as an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers—and Carroll is proud of the way his players have handled a serious and important topic.
“It was a statement they wanted to make, and it was not about football,” Carroll said. “It was about other things, and I supported them on that 100 percent. I was proud of what was accomplished by the statement they made and what they stood for, and in terms of building that bridge, it could be a very significant thing that they’ve done.”
As Baldwin put it, the Seahawks, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other players and teams around the league have gotten people’s attention with pregame demonstrations, now their goal is to follow through with action and meaningful conversation.
“You hear our message, now listen,” Baldwin said. “We’re going to do the same thing on our front; we’re going to listen.”
Players know that the world can’t be changed overnight, but if they can start to make a difference on a local level, if they help build that bridge between law enforcement and local communities, then that will be a good start and a positive use of the platform they have as professional athletes.
“That’s the reality, if we can change the heart of one person, and let that person change somebody else’s heart and soul and viewpoint, and understand to respect, and learn more about other people and build that bridge like we talked about, that’s what it takes to help the world,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “And it shouldn’t take a tragedy, it shouldn’t take catastrophes, it shouldn’t take situations to do that. Why do we have to wait to do that? Our team, our goal was to challenge other people to build that bridge with us, not separate, but with us. We want this city to come together and be able to do that.”
Photos from the national anthem during the Seattle Seahawks' Week 1 game vs the Miami Dolphins at CenturyLink Field.