If NFL officials thought that keeping Colin Kaepernick out of the league would cause players to stop addressing racial injustices on a national stage, then they had a rude awakening this weekend.
As NFL preseason games kicked off in earnest, and violence erupted at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, two NFL players — Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch and Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett — refused to stand when the national anthem was played during pre-game festivities.
Michael Freeman of Bleacher Report reports that more protests are expected as the season continues.
Texted with 5 players today who believe more will protest this season. Says league-wide outrage over Charlottesville, reaction from Trump.
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) August 14, 2017
The notoriously coy Lynch did not elaborate on his reasons for sitting during the anthem, indicating to his head coach Jack del Rio that it was something he had been doing for years. But the always outspoken Bennett left no room for confusion, and said he planned to sit during the anthem for the rest of the season.
“Seeing everything in Virginia and stuff that is going on I just wanted to be able to use my platform to continuously speak out on injustice,” Bennett said, as reported by the Seattle Times.
“First of all I want to make sure people understand I love the military — my father was in the military,” Bennett said. “I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation, I don’t love riots, I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve and I want to be able to use this platform to continuously push the message and keep finding out how unselfish we can be in society, how we can continuously love one another and understand that people are different.”
— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) August 14, 2017
Bennett wasn’t the only NFL player to speak out against the violence in Charlottesville over the weekend. Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, and his brother, Chicago Bears guard Kyle Long — who are both from Charlottesville — condemned the violence in their hometown, and said it wasn’t emblematic of the city they know. Chris, who has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and a supporter of Colin Kaepernick, also expressed frustration with Trump’s reaction.
“This isn’t a political issue. This is right and wrong,” Chris said. “I believe you’re either on one side or the other. For me, being from Charlottesville, nobody wants you to sit idly by and not say anything. And I wish there were more categorical denials from some very important people in this country who have had the opportunity to strike it down and didn’t.”
Kaepernick received an immense amount of backlash to his protest, and despite his on-field accomplishments, has not been picked up by a team team for 2017. The Baltimore Ravens, who recently considered signing Kapernick, just signed a quarterback that hasn’t played in the NFL since 2013.
But though the NFL might want its players to stick to sports, the athletes aren’t obliging. For many, the stakes are simply too high to remain silent.