The Seahawks were on the field Thursday for their third session of organized team activities, but when head coach Pete Carroll, receiver Doug Baldwin and quarterback Russell Wilson met with the media following practice, much of conversation focused on a decision made by the NFL a day earlier.
On Wednesday, the league announced a national anthem policy for 2018 that will require players and league personnel on the field to stand during the anthem, but that also gives players the choice to stay in the locker room for the anthem. That decision has led to reaction from everyone ranging from players to fans to even the White House, which as Carroll noted, only further illustrates the level of division not just among football fans but in the country as a whole.
"I think it's obviously another illustration of our polarizing times," Carroll said. "There's no clear-cut agreement on how this fits, and there's going to be a lot of discourse. There's going to be a lot coming up here. From the inside of it, we were in the process of figuring this out and how to put it together. We've lived through it here with the men in the locker room and we were making real progress. I think this illustration of a new statement of what's going to be is going to have an effect that we're going to have to deal with. I was kind of liking the way it was going, but now it's kind of taken out of the control from the coach and the players in the locker room to a certain extent. So we're going to have deal with that in time; we'll figure it out. We're going to be together in whatever we do and how we handle this. We'll do our talking."
Carroll went on to talk about how football is an escape for many in our country, players and coaches included, but that players also do a lot of good in their communities that extends far beyond the field, a point that can get lost in all the debate over the anthem.
"Unfortunately in all of this it gets kind of muddled and lost and it gets polarized, and that's unfortunate," Carroll said. "Give us a chance, we'll put this together in a really good way and we'll represent our fans. This area is going to respond, and they should. We have always stood for our players to have the opportunity to speak for themselves and be advocates of free speech and the democracy that we love and the freedoms that we love, and we're going to continue to do that. Nothing is going to change us in that regard at all. But this is a time for us all to listen and to learn and to find the empathy that it takes to understand that other people don't agree, and there's other issues and other concerns, that not everybody is listening carefully enough to the other people who have something to say.
"I think our players have a tremendous message and they represent an extraordinary aspect and mentality in our country, and we need to listen to them and we need to hear what they have to say, we need to understand where they're coming from, and champion the fact that they're going to do the good work in whatever the circumstances allow. We're going to try to figure out how to continue to do that. So this place is going to stand up, our guys will continue to stand up and do what we need to do. But football is football. I'd like to keep it football as much as possible and make it fun and the kind of game that we love, but we need to deal with the rest of it and deal with it in a really good manner, and again, we have to listen better and respect together people's opinions and understand that we don't all agree, but we need to find our way through that, because we care so much. That's what empathy is all about. So I'm looking for new empathy, and I'm going to keep saying it and keep talking about it, because that's going to give us a chance to move forward together better than we're doing right now.
Carroll mentioned empathy, which is a word Baldwin points to often when discussing a number of real-world topics, including the work he has been doing in trying to build a bridge between law enforcement and the communities they serve. When it comes to the anthem policy, Baldwin said his initial reaction was an emotional one of disappointment that "pulls on the heartstrings" because players weren't involved in the decision-making process. Baldwin, who himself has never protested during the anthem, wanted to reiterate a point he and other players have made in the past, which is that the protests were never about the anthem or the flag itself or the military, but rather about using their platforms to draw attention to issues like racial injustice and police brutality.
"The demonstrations, reason why we were even having the conversation we were having was because there was a loss of life," Baldwin said. "It was never about disrespecting the flag or our military or anything in our regard. It was about the loss of life that was happening in a particular community, there was frustration and enough was enough, and athletes and celebrities who have a platform to speak up for those who don't have a platform wanted to use that platform to do just that."
Wilson said the controversy over the anthem itself takes away from the bigger issues at hand.
"To me, it's all about love, but the problem is, I think we're focused on the wrong things," Wilson said. "No (anthem) policy is going to fix the problems that we have in America right now, it's not going to fix the shootings that are happening, it's not going to fix all the racial tension, a policy on the national anthem. I think we're getting distracted a little bit about what that means. I have family that has served, and Ciara's dad, so I respect the military and what that means and the freedom of that and what they give us, but at the same time, we need to be focused on how we can help. How can we help our communities, how can we help our high schools, how can we help the African American community? There's so much going on that a simple policy of who's standing up and who's not, and honestly being a little bit nitpicky—it's tough, because I don't know if that's the right answer. Maybe it is, maybe it's not. To me, we need to continue to try to find ways to heal, continue to find ways to help our communities, and until we do that, we're hurting ourselves. That's what we should be talking about more. That's what we're not talking about enough—how do we make this world a better place, how do we make it safer for our kids, how do we make our school communities better, how do we help the inner-city communities? Those should be the leading conversations."
The Seahawks started Phase 3 of their voluntary offseason workout program this week, hosting the third of 9 Organized Team Activities (OTAs) on Thursday, May 24 at Renton's Virginia Mason Athletic Center.