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Seahawks make message of love and unity ‘loud and clear’

All Seahawks players and coaches stood with arms linked during the national anthem on Sunday. (AP)

Fresh off a dramatic 12-10 victory and his first game after a major injury, Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls spoke in the locker room talking about unity and the oneness of the human race. That’s when his teammate Doug Baldwin, the narrator of the Seahawks’ unifying message, put his face to Rawls’ ear and said, “I [expletive] love you.”

“Love you too, baby,” Rawls responded.

Love. That was the underlying feeling of a storyline that in some ways overshadowed the Seahawks’ season opener, as the team’s players and coaches linked arms during the national anthem in a show of unity on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Four members of the Dolphins knelt on the opposite sideline, joining the movement of silent protests by NFL players started by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the preseason.

Baldwin revealed via a Tweet on Saturday that the team would take the unifying stance and quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in the process. After the game, Seahawks players said the collective idea came after meetings and open discussions among each other. Baldwin said the crossed arms represented a unified front that also honored 9/11 and that their message is similar Kaepernick’s.

“The message that we’re sending is, yes, there are things in our country that need to be changed, but that’s why our country is so great,” Baldwin told reporters Sunday. “We’re never afraid to face those challenges head on and make those changes.”

Baldwin called it a “proud moment” as he watched a field-size flag unfurled and heard the stadium chant “Sea-hawks.” He said the team spoke with African-American sociologist Harry Edwards for three hours about the situation in the country, and that he told them, “The difference between a mob and a movement is a follow-through.” He said the team is scheduling a meeting with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and police chief’s across the state to figure out ways to start the discussion.

“That’s the first step, is to have communication,” he said. “We need to know the perspective of other people. The greatest tragedy for any human being is going through their entire lives believing the only perspective that matters is their own. We need to break down those walls and barriers and get people to see that there’s perspective outside of their own eyes.”

Outspoken defensive end Michael Bennett shared Baldwin’s view and said the team came together for the common goal to “build a bridge” toward something great. It’s something he expects the team will continue.

“I think we plan on doing it every game,” he said. “I think we plan on really showing people how to bridge the gap. I think there’s a big gap in America.”

Bennett said it was “perfect” that the message took precedence over the game itself and hopes that others, including fans, will follow suit. He said that taking a knee, especially on 9/11, can keep people from hearing the message and can cut off the dialogue that the Seahawks hope to start.

“We want all the fans to be a part of it because at the end of the day, if one fan can be next to a Dolphin fan and realize, look it’s just a game,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s what can we do together in the community?”

Kaepernick’s protest has been lauded by some and even vaulted his jersey sales to No. 1 in the NFL, but it’s also been criticized, including by Seahawks legend Steve Largent. Kaepernick, who will be the backup when the 49ers play the Rams on Monday Night Football, has said he plans to donate $1 million to nonprofits working in communities that are especially affected by police brutality. Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall knelt during the NFL’s first regular season game Thursday and Miami’s Arian Foster, Michael Thomas, Kenny Stills and Jelani Jenkins did the same at CenturyLink on Sunday. Thomas said that he felt a team demonstration is more impactful than kneeling but that his decision was about unity, too.

“Just because I want to raise awareness does not mean that I’m anti-flag,” Thomas said. “I want unity. I want everyone to listen and find solutions. Let’s not argue about what’s patriotic, what’s not, who’s anti-this and who’s anti-that. Let’s keep finding solutions …

“When it’s only a few guys, one or two guys, it’s easy for people to point the blame at them. It would be better if it’s team-wide, if it’s league-wide.”

Seattle was not the only team that locked arms during the Star-Spangled Banner. The Chiefs did the same, with cornerback and former UW Husky Marcus Peters bowing his head and holding up a fist reminiscent of two American in a 1968 Olympic medal ceremony.

A statement from the Chiefs said the decision to link arms was “a sign of solidarity” with the goal to be “unified as a team and to be respectful of everyone’s opinions, and the remembrance of 9/11.”

While implementation of the Seahawks’ stance went as planned, tight end Luke Willson said he was “very upset” with how the demonstration was handled by the media. Prior to Baldwin’s Twitter announcement, there had been reports that the Seahawks would be doing a “protest” of some sort during the anthem. Willson said the articles took the open discussions out of context, which led to some fans misunderstanding the purpose of the team’s stance and even the cancellation of a planned Seahawks rally in DuPont by the town’s mayor.

“We talked about a social movement. The word protest was not used, which it was very disappointing how the media handled a few vague lines,” he said. “… As a team, I think our message was loud and clear. If people want to misunderstand what we were trying to do, that’s their problem. I don’t think there is any possible shred where someone could have taken what we did today as disrespectful.”

Other comments on the national anthem:

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson: “Obviously, this country, we’ve gone through so much. The African-American community, we’ve gone through a lot. For history, and all of the things that have gone on. Not every police officer is a bad police officer, and not every African-American is a bad person, and vice versa. I think ultimately, when we look at our football team, the people that we have in our locker room, there are so many different guys that come from so many different social-economic statuses, different races, different relationship situations, and all that, and mixed kids, just a lot of different situations. When we look across the board at our team, we really know how to love one another, we really know how to respect one another.”

Seahawks linebacker Brock Coyle: “I grew up in Montana, Mike Bennett grew up in Texas, K.J. Wright grew up in Mississippi. We all came from diverse backgrounds and we all have unique views and unique opinions and so we absolutely had great conversations. I think that’s what is so great about this team is we listened to everybody’s heart and everybody spoke with compassion and conviction and we came together as one and that was great.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll: “On a day with so much going on, with the big event of 9/11, what our players had joined to do. We really wanted to get out of here with the win and that’s what we did. I was proud of those guys, in the way they’ve handled themselves and the way they’ve handled this thing. We’ll see what happens as we move forward.”

Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril on the conversation shifting from protest to demonstration: “I mean what exactly is protesting? You can call locking arms protesting, I don’t know. For us, we were just trying to figure out what we wanted to do as a team and that’s what we came up with as a team. Hopefully people continue to talk about it because that’s the big thing for me, to get the conversation going.”

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill: “We had a team discussion about it. I never really considered it. But it’s to a man. That what it came down to. If you want to stand up or kneel for what you believe in then that’s your right, and we support your doing it, just like I’m going to support the guys who stand.”

Dolphins head coach Adam Gase: “There’s nothing I’m able to say one way or the other because it’s a person’s opinion, it’s a person’s right. My job is to coach the football team.”