RENTON The Seahawks’ biggest advocate for social change is going to be a part of the NFL’s big meeting on the issue.
Michael Bennett told me on Monday following practice he has accepted an invitation from the league to be a part of its meeting Tuesday with owners and leaders of the players’ union. It’s the NFL’s effort to get an agreement on how to address players’ concerns on the need for change in American society--and eventually to get past this season’s controversy over players sitting and kneeling for the national anthem before games.
How will Bennett participate in the New York meeting, with the Seahawks practicing here on Tuesday for Sunday’s game at the Giants?
Bennett waved his mobile device.
“Phone,” he said, following his team’s return from its bye week.
He said about 10 players will be participating along with the executive director of the NFL Players Association, DeMaurice Smith. Bennett said those players include Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills.
The league announced Tuesday morning as the meeting began that 13 players were in New York participating: legend Anquan Boldin, Darius Butler from Indianapolis, former Seahawk Russell Okung from the Los Angeles Chargers, Stills, Michael Thomas and Julius Thomas from Miami, Mark Herzlich from the Giants, Kevlin Beachum and Demario Davis from the Jets, Jenkins and Chris Long from the Eagles, Eric Reid from San Francisco and Josh Norman from Washington.
The NFL said owners from 11 teams joined the NFL’s Goodell and Troy Vincent plus Smith and two other union leaders. Those teams’ owners present in New York were from the Cardinals, Falcons, Bills, Texans, Jaguars, Dolphins, Patriots, Giants, Steelers, Eagles and 49ers.
Bennett and Jenkins were among four players who wrote a 10-page memo and “call to action” to the NFL early this season. It asked the league and commissioner Roger Goodell to recognize inequality for minorities in the United States and the need for police reform formally, as the NFL does breast cancer and the military during the season.
Bennett has been at the forefront of this season’s movement across the league seeking changes in the way minorities are treated and the need for police reform. Seattle’s Pro Bowl defensive end has been sitting during the national anthem before games since the preseason opener Aug. 13. He and the rest of the Seahawks and Titans stayed in the locker room during the anthem before a game in Tennessee last month.
It’s those kind of mass statements during the anthem that the league and many of its owners want to avoid because of the national controversy they--plus condemnation of them from President Donald Trump--have created.
Last week Goodell sent a letter to each of the league’s 32 teams.
“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” the NFL commissioner wrote team presidents and chief executives. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”
That led to an interpretation across the league, including from many players, Goodell and owners such as Dallas’ Jerry Jones would be mandating at Tuesday’s meeting that all players stand during the anthem--likely in exchange for the league’s agreement to devote more resources and effort to advancing the players’ social concerns. Jones has said Cowboys who don’t stand for the anthem won’t play for his team.
The league responded by saying it will not be mandating anthem standing at Tuesday’s meeting with owners and players such as Bennett. The NFL said its meeting will allow owners a chance to review current policy that encourages players to stand during the anthem, but does not require them to stand.
It’s hard to imagine, given the current and unprecedented climate for social awareness among NFL players, the league formally mandating players must stand. More likely, it will strongly encourage full, standing participation in the anthem in an effort to keep the NFL unified, again, in exchange for more from the league toward promoting the players’ social-change ideas.
One example: NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Monday the league would endorse a criminal justice reform bill in Congress.
Monday night, the league published a letter co-signed by Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin, the son of a law-enforcement officer who has met with Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson about police reform, and Goodell. The letter went to a Senate judiciary committee on criminal justice reform considering the bipartisan Sentencing and Reform Corrections Act of 2017.
“Over the last two seasons, one particular issue that has come to the forefront for our players and our teams is the issue of justice for all,” the letter states.
Last week, Lockhart told reporters on an NFL conference call about Tuesday’s meeting: “(Goodell) has a plan that he is going to present to owners about how to use our platform to both raise awareness and make progress on issues of social justice and equality in this country.
“What we don’t have is a proposal that changes our policy. We don’t have something that mandates anything. That’s clear...”
That’s where Bennett, Jenkins, Stills and others come in, as the player leaders to give the league ideas to adopt to raise that awareness and make some progress on social justice and equality. They don’t want any NFL response to be mere lip service to quell a controversy. They want actions by the league that carry the potential to have impact across the country.
I asked Bennett what he hopes to gain out of Tuesday’s meeting.
“Cash,” he said.
Bennett wants the league to pledge money from the NFL’s multi-billion annual enterprise to help match initiatives such as the action fund Seahawks’ players have established to pay for new police training and education programs for minorities, and create new ones.
Bennett also wants the league to give social and racial equality a month of promotion and marketing like it does breast cancer and saluting the military. Bennett has said perhaps players could wear T-shirts during pregame warmups in those months that highlight social and racial causes.
Bennett was in flat sneakers and not is normal field cleats upon conclusion of Monday’s walk-through practice. He got what coach Pete Carroll described as a plantar-fascia injury in his right foot Oct. 8 in the win at the Los Angeles Rams.
Bennett’s status for Sunday’s game at the Giants remains unknown. The Seahawks don’t have to report injuries or practice participation until Wednesday, per league rules.