Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett celebrated a sack on Sept. 17 with a single fist in the air -- a nod to the Black Panthers movement -- marking the first time an NFL player protested during a game.
Following the sack, Bennett ran off to another part of the field, stood still and then raised a single fist in the air -- much like Olympian John Carlos did in the 1968 Summer Olympics, the New York Post noted. Bennett later explained on Twitter that the gesture was meant to "represent unity or solidarity with oppressed peoples," reports SB Nation.
The national anthem protest also continued at the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, reports USA Today. Bennett was supported by teammates Justin Britt and Thomas Rawls, who stood beside him and placed their hands on his shoulder.
Prior to the game, Bennett was supported by a Movement for Black Lives pregame rally at the CenturyLink stadium, according to KING-TV. It was organized by the Seattle-area NAACP and the Social Equality Educators, and led by Bennett's younger brother, Resheud Bennett, as well as activist Nikkita Oliver.
The national anthem protest that started with now-out-of-work quarterback Colin Kaepernick to highlight the mistreatment of black citizens, has gained the support of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said to The Guardian that the league stood behind Bennett following an incident with police last month in Las Vegas.
“Our foremost concern is the welfare of Michael and his family,” Goodell said. “The issues Michael has been raising deserve serious attention from all of our leaders in every community. We will support Michael and all NFL players in promoting mutual respect between law enforcement and the communities they loyally serve and fair and equal treatment under the law.”
Las Vegas police stopped Bennett on the way to his hotel room following the Mayweather-McGregor fight after hearing gunshots in the area. The police ordered him to the ground, treating him as a suspect at first sight. In a video released by TMZ, viewers see Bennett on the ground shouting, "I wasn't doing nothing, man," as LVPD put him in handcuffs and frisked him with his body pushed to the ground.
The gunshots later turned out to be a false alarm. Bennett, however, released a statement saying that he has reached out to an attorney and plans to sue the LVPD for violating his civil rights.
The protesting of the national anthem has stirred controversy across the nation, as it is seen by critics as disrespectful of the armed forces who serve the country. Bennett spoke to reporters following their preseason game with the Los Angeles Chargers and shared that he is supportive and is a dependent of a veteran.
“First of all, I want to make sure that people understand I love the military. My father was in the military. I love hot dogs, like any other American. I love football like any other American,” Bennett said. “But I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots. I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. And I just want to see people have equality that they deserve.”
After the game, Bennett said it meant “everything” to have his brother and others supporting him, reported The Seattle Times.