SEATTLE — It’s the issue that’s divided the sporting nation.
No doubt you are aware of the protests some NFL players have taken during the national anthem prior to games, and chances are you have a strong opinion on the subject. You may believe the anthem and the flag should be respected at all times, because of what they symbolize both to our country and our veterans. You may believe people should have the freedom to express dissent, and that there are issues that need to be brought to the forefront in a effort to affect change. It’s a divisive subject that’s stirred up anger and animosity on both sides, just another contentious issue that threatens to tear us apart.
But on Sunday afternoon, the Seattle Seahawks made a gesture designed to help bring us back together again.
During the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks didn’t hold a protest. They held a demonstration of unity, standing as one with arms linked while the anthem played.
It was an acknowledgement that while there remain ills that affect our country, the only way to solve them is together.
“Be the bridge,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “I understand there’s a lot of stuff going on right now, and if we were going to do anything, whatever we wanted to do we wanted to do together instead of having each individual do separate things. We just wanted to be together and show the world this team is together, no matter what.”
The roots of the furor originated with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who chose to sit during the national anthem prior to games, citing problems with racial inequality in the country. He was later joined by other NFL players, including Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane, who sat during the national anthem at last week’s preseason finale at Oakland.
During the week some Seahawks players said they had been thinking about what was going on and considering their own actions. That sparked a reaction in the region, one that was magnified by the game being on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Centers. Outraged messages flashed through social media about the potential of a team-wide protest. The city of DuPont canceled a planned Seahawks rally in anticipation of player protests. It was an illustration in how we divide ourselves.
But when the anthem began Sunday there was no sitting or kneeling on the Seahawks’ side of the field — though on the opposite side Miami’s Kenny Stills, Arian Foster, Michael Thomas and Jelani Jenkins chose to kneel, their hands on their hearts. Instead, they all joined together — including Lane — with the coaches and staff, people of all races and backgrounds standing in unity.
“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,” said receiver Doug Baldwin, who’s been a central figure for the Seahawks. “At the same time, we’re standing for those lives that are fought for. We want to ensure that freedom and security for all people.
“We have to do it together.”
Sunday’s demonstration was no snap judgment by the Seahawks. Three weeks ago Seahawks coach Pete Carroll arranged for Dr. Harry Edwards, a noted sociologist who examines race in sports, to come and speak to the team. The players then spent time talking and came to a decision as a team to find a demonstration that could both honor the country, but also shed light upon the issue of racial injustice.
Among the things Edwards told the Seahawks is that the difference between mob and a movement is follow through. So Sunday’s gesture is just the the beginning. Next comes the follow through.
“Even the people who criticize us and what we did today, if they went into their community and did a little to help improve it, then I think we move towards a lot of progress,” said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who emphasized the need for players to take an active role within their communities. “Obviously there’s injustice, police brutality, things like that that are going on, and I think that’s getting solved. I think people understand it and comprehend it. Obviously all cops aren’t doing that, but the few that are need to be addressed. But I think at the end of the day as human beings we have to help one another more than we have.”
Baldwin is also taking action, as he talked about scheduling a meeting with Seattle mayor Ed Murray, as well as local police chiefs, to beginning a dialogue about the issues that have afflicted law enforcement and minority groups.
But Baldwin stressed that as a dialogue it’s not just about talking, it’s also about listening.
“The first step is to have communication,” Baldwin said. “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.”
Sunday likely won’t be the end of the Seahawks’ demonstrations, as the players hinted at the possibility of more demonstrations prior to games.
But whatever those demonstrations may be, no doubt they’ll be designed to bring us together.
For more on the Seattle sports scene, check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at www.heraldnet.com/tag/seattle-sidelines, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.