Ousting of Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman Brings an End to Woke Era in SeattleMarch 8, 2018
It was just a few months ago that Michael Bennett made an observation about the NFL that remains a dominant theme now.
"The NFL doesn't want us to be individuals," Bennett told me in January. "Look at the NBA; they are allowed to market themselves and think about their life after basketball. The NFL is all about the shield, the shield, the shield. I could go on all day about the hypocrisy of that."
When he was asked about Colin Kaepernick in August, particularly about the comments from Giants owner John Mara, who said he needed to check with fans before signing Kaepernick, Bennett was again highly opinionated:
"I think it shows the racial divide in the league," Bennett told USA Today Sports. "There are (accused) rapists and drunk drivers in the league. But he's somebody who didn't do anything to anybody. But you hear owners say, 'We have to ask our fan base first.' But the Giants kept Josh Brown (amid a domestic violence issue). Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of rape twice. The organization didn't turn their back on him. They gave him a contract extension. Kaepernick didn't do anything. That's why racism is the biggest issue in America."
Bennett's teammate, Richard Sherman, another one of many socially conscious Seahawks players, has harshly criticized NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, saying he's "just a suit."
There has never been a locker room like the Seahawks'. Led by Sherman and Bennett, the Seattle roster was smart and politically active, and they made the NFL better by challenging its norms, pushing the league to recognize players were more than mindless robots who should just shut up and play football.
There may never be another team quite like it again.
On Wednesday, Bennett was traded to Philadelphia, as first reported by ESPN's Josina Anderson. The Seahawks also included a seventh-round pick for Marcus Johnson and a fifth-rounder, I was able to confirm.
Sherman expects his days in Seattle are few, too, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported, and the goodbye tweets teammates were sending Sherman's way would attest to that.
And so it would seem the Woke Era has ended in Seattle.
Rapoport reported the Seahawks wanted to trade Bennett to "quiet" the locker room, though he later tweeted that his remark had nothing to do with activism. It's also true the Seahawks organization has long supported its players' off-field causes, so it's hard to believe they dumped Bennett (and possibly Sherman) because the team tired of their activism.
But Bennett retweeted this:
And in other corners of the NFL, there's been offseason pushback against what was a tumultuous 2017 season full of peaceful protests by players against police violence and for social justice.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said this week his players would stand for the anthem. He later said his words were misconstrued, though a recording of the conversation (made by the New York Daily News) showed they weren't.
Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle reported that agents told him the Texans weren't going to sign free agents who protested last season (a charge refuted by the team).
And UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has been privately criticized by teams for being too outspoken about politics and other issues off the field.
Despite the denials and the backpedaling, the fact that the league can't seem to speak with a consistent tone of support suggests it is still struggling with this issue. Big time.
While the Bennett trade would seem to cement the Eagles as the new home of NFL activism, it was the Seahawks who began the movement and were able to build a platform to spread it because of their success.
Since 2012, Seattle has made the playoffs five times and has won three division titles, two conference titles and one Super Bowl. It was a stupid play call away from winning a second.
And none of that happens without Bennett or Sherman. According to the NFL's research arm, only two players have more quarterback hits than Bennett's 118 in the past five years: J.J. Watt and Carlos Dunlap. And since 2011, no player has more interceptions (32) or passes defensed (99) than Sherman.
Still, those two men, and the Seahawks, have been just as dominant off the field. They've been beautifully loud and wonderfully patriotic in challenging both football and societal norms. Receiver Doug Baldwin is still there, and he's important, but it's not the same without Bennett and maybe Sherman.
The end of the Seahawks as we have come to know them is a loss for the NFL, and for us all.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.