Yesterday, San Francisco 49ers GM John Lynch was asked about Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett’s decision to sit for the national anthem before a preseason game last weekend. Here’s part of what Lynch had to say about it (via ESPN):
And I think this game brings people together. So I think personally when I see that, I think that’s divisive. And I understand guys see things and they’re not happy. They have that right. And I think we’ll always respect people’s rights. That doesn’t mean I believe that. I believe this game should be celebrated for what it is. I think [it’s] a tremendous unifier for our country and for the way things should be.
I’ll wager that this is the stock answer you’re going to see from GMs, owners, coaches, and other Serious Football Men throughout the season when they are asked about players sitting or kneeling during the anthem. It threads the needle: Lynch didn’t directly condemn Bennett’s act while still managing to condescend to it, all while talking up the unifying powers of football. It’s a quote designed to make anyone who reads it shrug and say, “Whatever” before moving onto the next thing.
Lynch’s central critique of Bennett’s act, though—the idea that it was “divisive”—is nonsensical at best and malignant at worst. Here again is Bennett explaining why he took a seat:
“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. And just because people are different doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t like them. Just because they don’t eat what you eat, just because they don’t pray to the same God you pray to doesn’t mean you should hate them. Whether it is Muslim, whether it is Buddhist, whether it is Christianity, I just want people to understand that no matter what, we need to stay together. It’s more about being a human being at this point.”
Bennett’s message is in favor of peace and equality. Who exactly is on the other side of this divide Lynch is talking about? Is the implication that he will alienate teammates and fans who ... don’t think peace and equality are a good thing?
The most frustrating thing about the whole conversation that Colin Kaepernick started last year has been people like Lynch willfully misunderstanding the message players like Kaepernick and Bennett are trying to send. First the talking point was that kneeling for the anthem is somehow disrespectful of the military—what the fuck do the troops have to do with football in the first place?—and now it’s that kneeling will somehow divide the locker room. Who is being divided, though, and from what?