The Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett, one of the most outspoken voices during the NFL’s season of protest, said he received an unexpected honor on Sunday: a unit coin from a Vietnam veteran.
“He lost half his battalion,” Bennett said of the veteran who approached him on the field after Seattle’s 24-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. “He was telling me about the POWs and the people missing in action. He gave that to me, says he loves everything I stand for. That’s just an honor to be able to get something like that. That’s a big deal.” Bennett displayed the coin for media to see after the game in Santa Clara.
Bennett has sat during the national anthem for most of the season, a move he says is meant to protest systemic inequality. He’s outlined his reasons for sitting on numerous occasions, and he’s also taken pains to stress that his protests aren’t meant to be critical of the military. Next week, he will wear cleats honoring POWs and MIAs, and he’s seeking to bring attention to challenges former military members face such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
“So to be able to shine a light on some of the issues that are going on within the military or from after [war] is something I think as Americans we should definitely bring up,” he said, per ESPN. “As much as we love everything they do, we should love everything that they’re going through too. So just to be able to support them, it was an honor for me to get that [coin].”
The protests have drawn national attention and condemnation from Americans ranging from devoted veterans to opportunistic politicians. Many opponents of the protest believe the players are disrespecting the flag and those who sacrificed to protect it. However, others have taken the view that Bennett’s veteran apparently does: that it’s America’s freedoms which are sacred—including the freedom to protest inequality—moreso than the song or the flag that symbolize those freedoms.
The NFL is working to find some kind of compromise solution to the ongoing protest debate, which could include everything from requiring teams to stand to keeping teams in locker rooms during the anthem, as they were prior to 2009.
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