What's going on in the NFL right now is a lot bigger than football. This isn't the first time athletes have used their platforms to advocate for change, but as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll put it, "This is just the next time, but it is a very significant time."
A team full of intelligent, independent thinkers, led by a head coach who encourages players to be themselves and explore life beyond football, the Seahawks have long embraced chances to make a difference. So when players and teams around the league responded in various ways to President Donald Trump's comments that called for "son of a (expletive) players" to be fired for protesting inequality during the national anthem, it came as no surprise that Seahawks players and Carroll had well-thought-out, direct responses ready after they, along with the Tennessee Titans, elected to stay in their locker room during the anthem.
Neither Carroll nor his players are certain what will take place this week, but whether or not there are more protests, the most important thing going forward is to make a difference now that they have everyone's attention.
"I think that last week was about making a statement, and I think moving forward, it's about making a difference," Carroll said Wednesday.
And Seahawks players have for a long time been generous with their time and money to make a difference in the community, both in their own home towns and the Seattle area, and in the case of players like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, even globally.
Yet sometimes even that activism in the community isn't enough to make everyone take notice on certain issues, which is how protests come about. And Carroll again wanted to reiterate to anyone listening is what exactly it is that his team, and so many others, are protesting. Ever since a handful of players, led by Colin Kaepernick, began sitting or kneeling for the anthem last year, and when Michael Bennett sat this year, it has been about combating racism, inequality and injustices taking place in this country. The anthem has been the vehicle for those protest, not the target of them, nor is the military or the flag or the country as a whole.
"They love our country, they love our flag, they love everything that we stand for, they just want to try and do their part while they have their chance and I think that that is incredibly important," Carroll said. "They are valuable and they are smart and they have a lot to offer. Here they have been encouraged and maybe that is what you are seeing."
Cornerback Richard Sherman called last weekend "a pivotal moment for the league," and said his team's actions and words "have been received positively for the most part," even if players know there are some people whose minds cannot be changed.
"At this point in time, there are certain people in this world who already have their opinions made up, their eyes are closed, their ears are closed, so they are no longer formulating opinions," he said. "… I think for the most part though, for those that are accepting in our society, those people that are open and have open hearts and a good moral compass, I think they were received incredibly well. At the end of the day, you can't make everybody happy, and we're not trying to. We're just trying to help people become more aware of the issues that are out there; the injustices and the inequalities that are in the world, and I think we did that."
Sherman isn't sure what he or his team will do Sunday before his team's game against the Colts, but ultimately he hopes to see a day where nobody feels the need to protest.
"What I would like to see is that the inequality and divisiveness stop," Sherman said. "I would like the racism and bigotry to stop. If that happened, the demonstrations can stop. So my message to everyone out there is, 'Hey, stop the racism, bigotry and inequality, and there's nothing for these players to protest.'"
Those are big goals, obviously, and nobody expects racism, bigotry and inequality to go away overnight, even if that's a noble endgame, but simply the fact that so many discussion on those topics are being had this shows that Sunday's protests made a difference.
"I think it has been a great impact," receiver Doug Baldwin said. "Obviously we're going to continue to talk about it, it's going to be a non-stop conversation, and that's the point is to continue a dialogue and to force people to listen to voices that don't have the platform that we do, that players do, and to continue to push for love, compassion, and empathy and encourage growth."
While the Seahawks were one of the few teams to focus on the original reason for the protests—theirs was one of the only statements issued by an NFL team to mention race—the comments of the President and the response to Trump did change the message, league-wide. But even if at times the original point of the protests was temporally overshadowed, in the long run Baldwin and others feel like good will come out of the past few days.
"Yeah, it did," Baldwin said when asked if the President's comments sidetracked the issue at hand. "It really did. But the reason I thought it would be a unifying opportunity was because you had individuals speaking specifically to injustice and inequality, but then now you have somebody saying 'I don't want to hear your protest, I don't want to hear your grievances,' which is a First Amendment right. If an American can't air their grievances to the republic for which it stands, where can they air their grievances? And when you have the President of our country basically saying 'I don't want to hear your protests, I don't want to hear your grievances' then I think that is where we have the challenge. I think all of you can understand that as well. He has attacked the media in the past. So I think that is why I thought it was more of a unifying effort and I thought, yeah he did detract from the actual point of inequality and injustice, but at the same time, it's giving us an opportunity to unify."
The best photos from the Seahawks' Wednesday practice at Virginia Mason Athletic Center in preparation for Sunday's Game against the Indianapolis Colts.