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While teams around the league took part in protests over the weekend in reaction to President Donald Trump’s controversial comments, the Seattle Seahawks made the decision to remain in the locker room during the national anthem on Sunday.
The team decision emerged following Trump’s remarks calling for the firing of players who choose to kneel or sit during the national anthem to protest social injustice causes.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our glad, to say, ‘Get that son of a b**** off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired,'” the president said at a rally in Huntsville, Ala.
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who pledged to kneel for the entirety of the 2017 NFL season for equality, explained to CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “AC360” why his team chose to unite on Sunday.
Michael Bennett on his team not taking the field during the National Anthem: "We made a decision as a team to stand for what we believe in" pic.twitter.com/nsjAqrVBYQ— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) September 26, 2017
”We just felt that to show our unity on top of what happened with Donald Trump and more about the equalities, it just seemed to bring our team together,” Bennett said. “We just wanted to not isolate a player who was scared to go and kneel, but to find a way to be able to not to put anybody in the limelight just to know we made a decision as a team to stand for what we believe in.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans also chose to remain in the locker room during Sunday’s games. But one player, Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, broke free from his team to stand at attention for “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Seahawks’ Bennett applauded Villanueva, a former commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and member of the elite Rangers, for standing up for what he thought was right.
“I thought that shows America that’s the freedom to express what he believed in,” Bennett said. “That’s what it’s really about. What’s the difference between a guy kneeling for what he believes in and what he did was standing up for what he believes in? We’re all saying the same thing, but I don’t think we should be judged as un-American because we believe in equality. Just like he believes in what he believes in, I applaud him for standing up for what he believes in and that’s what America is about. And I’m very honored to have somebody like that in the NFL.”
While many believe the anthem protests will continue to gain momentum throughout the NFL season, Bennett is hopeful they won’t have to.
The defensive end offered to meet with the president to open up respectful dialogue on the issues impacting the United States and said he would specifically like to work with him on social justice.
“I’d love to sit down with the president and talk about these isues and be able to find a way to fix them,” Bennett told Cooper. “For him to say it’s a privilege and we shouldn’t speak on what we believe in because we’re making money. I mean, he was a rich man too, and all of a sudden, he’s speaking on what he believes in, and still stood up for what he believes in and he’s the President of the United States. So, what makes him different from us?”