NFL running back Marshawn Lynch of the Oakland Raiders and defensive lineman Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks remained seated during the national anthem during their first games of the 2017-2018 football preseason.
While Lynch did not reveal his reason to sit during the anthem, Bennett disclosed that he was protesting racial inequality.
On Aug. 12, Lynch was seen sitting down and eating a banana during the national anthem before the Raiders' preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, ESPN reports.
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio later said he had spoken to Lynch about his protest of the anthem and that he supported his decision.
"[Lynch] said, 'This is something I've done for 11 years,'" Del Rio said. "I said, 'So you understand how I feel. I very strongly believe in standing for the national anthem, but I'm going to respect you as a man. You do your thing, and we'll do ours.' So that's a non-issue for me."
Quarterback E.J. Manuel of the Oakland Raiders said Lynch's decision to remain seated during the anthem was "more of a personal thing."
In February 2016, Lynch announced his retirement from playing for the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL. On April 14, Lynch returned to professional football when he signed to play with the Raiders, according to Sports Illustrated.
On Aug. 13, Bennett remained seated on the bench during the national anthem before the Seahawks' preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Unlike the media-shy Lynch, Bennett gave his reasons for protesting the anthem.
"With everything that's been going on the last couple of months, and especially after the last couple of days seeing what's going on in Virginia, and earlier today in Seattle," Bennett said. "I just wanted to be able to use my platform to be able to continuously speak on injustice."
The defensive lineman added "I want people to understand that I love the military ... But I don't love segregation. I don't love riots or oppression. I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve."
Bennett was referring to the Aug. 12 protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, where neo-Nazi demonstrators clashed with counter-protesters. Later that day, a white nationalist allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring more than 30. In Seattle on Aug. 13, opposing groups of protesters clashed at rallies in response to events in Virginia the day before.
In August 2016, former quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers generated controversy when he began to snub the anthem to protest police brutality.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media. "To me, this is bigger than football ... There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Kaepernick has yet to be signed by another NFL team after ending his contract with the 49ers. In Bennett's view, Kaepernick is being blackballed by the league because of his anthem protest.
"There's been guys who have criminal records, guys who have been accused of murder, guys who have been accused of rape and domestic violence who are still in the NFL," Bennett said. "It's crazy to see this guy not have an opportunity in the NFL ... We all know why."
In September 2016, Lynch commended Kaepernick's protest during an interview with late night show host Conan O'Brien on "Conan."
"So my take on it is s**t has to start somewhere, and if that was the starting point, I just hope people open up their eyes to see that there’s really a problem going on, and something needs to be done for it to stop," Lynch said.