Cowboys defensive end Michael Bennett reportedly said Monday that his new teammates in Dallas, not team owner Jerry Jones, convinced him to start standing on the sidelines during pregame renditions of the national anthem.
Bennett, one of the league’s most outspoken players on social issues, as well as a prominent advocate for Colin Kaepernick’s return to the NFL, had been staging forms of protest during the anthem since the 2017 season. When he was acquired last month from the New England Patriots, he reportedly reached an understanding with Dallas, and Jones said at the time, “I’m satisfied that, in Michael, we’ve got a player who knows how we do it here with the Cowboys.”
Sure enough, in his first two games with his new team, Bennett was seen standing on the sidelines as the anthem was being performed. With the Patriots earlier in the season and with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018, he stayed in the locker room, and he sat on the sidelines while with the Seattle Seahawks in 2017.
According to ESPN, Bennett denied Monday that an element of his trade to the Cowboys was a discussion with Jones about standing for the anthem.
The 11-year NFL veteran, who turns 34 later this week, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that his change in pregame preference came about at the request of his teammates, rather than in any brokered arrangement with the Cowboys’ owner.
“I feel at this point in my career if my teammates asked me to do something and I can do it,” Bennett said. “I know people want [to make of it] what they want to. I don’t know what to tell them.”
While the NFL briefly instituted a policy last year mandating that players stand on the sideline for the anthem, only to shelve it after discussions with the players’ union, Jones has said he’ll bench any player of his who stages a demonstration.
“If we are disrespecting the flag, then we won’t play. Period,” he declared in 2017.
Another defensive end in his first season with the Cowboys, Robert Quinn, ended the practice he began in 2016 of raising his fist during the anthem. Jones said in August (via Pro Football Talk) that while he had not discussed those demonstrations with Quinn, the team’s “position” was “very clear, and it will remain clear.”
“We want to recognize the social issues that Robert wants to make people aware of,” Jones said. “We want to recognize those, but the Cowboys stand for the flag when we get ready to play football.”
Quinn blamed the media at that time for having distorted the “message” protesting players were trying to send, saying, “People talked about it as disrespecting the flag, and they’re missing the message. It was not to cause distraction; it was to bring awareness to a situation that constantly gets thrown under the rug.”
He claimed in September that the protests of racial and social injustice, initiated by Kaepernick in 2016, were nevertheless “worth it.”
“I don’t know if you know the message, but for people who look like me, yes it was worth it,” Quinn said then (via the Star-Telegram). “For the simple fact that the message was not told right, that’s not my fault. But was it worth it? Yeah.”
The only NFL players still taking a knee this season during the anthem have been Eric Reid of the Carolina Panthers, Kenny Stills of the Houston Texans and Albert Wilson of the Miami Dolphins. In August, Stills took issue with comments made by rapper/entrepreneur Jay-Z, whose company has partnered with the league on entertainment productions and who said of Kaepernick, “I think we’ve moved past kneeling. I think it’s time for action.”
“Some of the ways that [Jay-Z] answered his questions, talking about, ‘We’re moving past kneeling,’ like he ever protested. He’s not an NFL player,” Stills told reporters, adding, “It didn’t seem very informed. . . . I’m looking for solutions, and I’m going to try to give him the benefit of the doubt for now, but it doesn’t sit right with me.”
On Monday, Bennett told the Star-Telegram that ending his protests during the anthem “doesn’t take away what I have done.”
“The stances that I took, the death threats I have had on my life – I have done it all,” said Bennett, who had a book published in 2018 with the title, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.” A version of the book for younger readers had a cover illustration of him in a football uniform, holding his head down while raising his fist.
“At the end of the day, people get caught into certain things and don’t get caught up into what people are doing to change society,” he said Monday. “We all are men. We are all trying to figure it out. None of us are finished products when it comes to society.
“I am a black man,” Bennett continued. “I have always said that. I have always stood on what I have believed in every single situation, whether it’s with Donald Trump, whether it was with the police, whether it was with police brutality, how women of color have been treated, how much money I have donated to different things, the causes I have stood up with, the people I have stood with.
“It doesn’t make me less of a person.”