Thiel: More Athletes Should Take A Stand By Sitting Down During National Anthem

Aug 18, 2017

The Seahawks beat the Minnesota Vikings 20-13 Friday night in their second preseason game. For the second game in a row, defensive end Michael Bennett sat during the national anthem. This time, his teammate Justin Britt stood beside him with his hand on Bennett's shoulder.

Britt said he wanted to show support for Bennett's stance for justice and equality, in light of the deadly violence at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Bennett's actions and the issue of the national anthem in sports are the topics of this week's conversation between KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel and 88.5's Kirsten Kendrick.

Bennett Not New To Social Justice Issues

Thiel pointed out that, while Bennett has a history of advocating for social justice issues, his decision to sit during the national anthem at the team's first 2017 preseason game was something new for him.

"It is new because Michael Bennett joined the rest of the team last year when the Seahawks came up with an idea for linking arms for the national anthem," he said.

"That followed San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit and/or kneel before games for the 49ers."

"The Seahawks wanted to try to come up with a unified statement. But, in fact, I think a lot of critics outside the team would say, 'Well, it was kind of pointless. Everybody's standing and linking arms but it's not conveying the passion that Bennett and Kaepernick had for social justice.'"

"So, Bennett, on his own without telling (coach) Pete Carroll or anybody else, decided to sit out the anthem."

"And, this week, Carroll said that he would prefer his players stand. But he's in full support of Bennett, who is a guy with a great social conscience."

"He advocates for numerous causes, spends a lot of time advocating for kids' issues, social equality."

"He's very engaged, very articulate and is the kind of spokesperson who can convey a message and is going to get everyone's attention. Even if people get upset over his choice of platform."

Other NFL players, including former Seahawk and current Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, sat during the national anthem during the first weekend of preseason games, particularly in light of the white supremacist rally that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virigina.  Many of the players say they plan to continue.

Do We Need The Anthem At Sporting Events?

"The larger question is, why do we have the national anthem at sporting events?" Thiel continued.

"It's kind of a political statement as it is - with all the military flyovers and the associations that the sports leagues and conferences have with the military, which I think is okay. But do we do that in the workplace elsewhere? Do we stand for the national anthem at work?"

"I understand it at international events. But for domestic games, do we need the anthem?"

"It's a custom. It's a tradition. And I stand for it as a middle-class white guy. But is it a part of what we consider the game?"

"And the answer, I guess, is what do the TV networks do when the telecast the game? They go to commercial when the anthem is played."

"Doug Baldwin said something interesting. He's a teammate of Michael Bennett and he was asked about this."

"He said, 'You know, as players, we stand on the sidelines and we watch fans keep their hats on. They talk to each other. They talk to us. They yell at us. And some of them are drunk. Why don't we write about that behavior at national anthems?'"

"And I thought he had a pretty good point."

Will We See More Athletes-Turned-Activists?

Thiel said it will be interesting to see what happens this weekend, and beyond.

"That's going to be the drama here in the coming days, weeks and months."

"Bennett's protest was Sunday in Los Angeles before the Seahawks game while the full impact of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia was still being understood."

"Now that we've seen President Donald Trump won't back down from his false moral equivalencies between the Nazis and the white supremacists and the counter protestors, I think the pressure is on for athletes to take a stand."

"Not just in football, which has got a 70 percent African-American player population and 100 percent white ownership. But I see it happening in other sports."

"We have athletes from around the world being celebrated by fans in all sports. And that means it's going to be a flashpoint, I think, for the culture."

"I suspect that we're going to see a lot more social activism on the part of players. And it's going to upset a lot of fans because they see their sports events as sanctuaries from the outside."

"I'm sorry. That's just not going to happen."

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