When Michael Bennett said the national anthem protests of certain players would only gain traction if white players were with them, he couldn’t have known it would trigger a bit of a movement of its own.
First, Eagles defensive end Chris Long put his arm around the shoulder of teammate Malcolm Jenkins, while Jenkins held his fist in the air. Then, Seahawks center Justin Britt put a hand on Bennett’s shoulder as he sat for the anthem, and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and Khalil Mack stood with arms around each other to display their unity.
“A very emotional moment to have that kind of solidarity from someone like Justin Britt, who’s a known leader in our locker room, who’s from a different part of America than me,” Bennett said, via Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com. “But to be able to have that solidarity and to be able to have somebody who is behind me and know that it’s someone that I really trust, and to see him put everything on the line to support one of his teammates, I thought that was a very special moment.”
Britt said Bennett’s words last week struck a chord with him, and he wanted to set an example for his children and others.
“I want to support him,” Britt said. “I want to support what he stands for and his beliefs. I’m not foolish. I’m from Missouri. I get that things are different in that area than they are in some other areas. I’m not against what the flag means and veterans. My dad was in the Army. So I’m not putting any disrespect to them. I’m just trying to understand the issues, trying to educate myself more in that regard and showing support.
“And I’m going to continue to understand what’s going on in the world and why it’s happening. Because none of it’s right. None of it’s what should be happening. I’m going to continue talking with Mike and exploring and just helping myself understand things. I wanted to take a first step tonight. And that’s what I felt like I did.”
Last year during the early stages of the Colin Kaepernick protests, the Seahawks stood with arms linked on the sidelines during the anthem, and coach Pete Carroll said he appreciated the gesture.
“I think in this time that we’re facing, this is more important than ever,” Carroll said. “There’s a lot of growth that needs to take place for us to accomplish the change that needs to be dealt with. It’s absolutely imperative that guys from both sides of the fence come together and learn and be open and support. And these guys are going to show you that. They’re working at it. They understand that there’s issues and concerns that we have difficulty talking about. But I know our team is working at it, and they’re determined to try and make things better by the way they all share their own connection and learn how to make statements and understand and be respectful towards one another.
“I particularly like that that was the illustration. It warmed my heart to hear that that’s what happened. Those guys got some brains. They’re thinking about it. They’re thinking about it very seriously. This is not just some frivolous thing where somebody made a mistake and sat down. This is guys working at it and guys trying to figure out how to help and how to make some sense for other people too. We’re just a football team, but our guys care, and I’m really proud of them.”
And it appears other players are following Bennett’s lead, which could lead to something even greater.