(CNN) — Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said Monday that he didn’t understand why President Donald Trump would “stoop so low” as to say that NFL owners should fire any “son of a bitch” who stages a protest during the National Anthem.
“I just couldn’t fathom that would come from the leader of America,” Bennett told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “At the same time, I knew that it would be something that would unite us as players.”
On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans remained in their locker rooms during the National Anthem.
Bennett explained what went into his team’s decision to not appear in the stadium for the anthem.
“We wanted to be able to find a way not to put anybody in the limelight,” Bennett said. “We made a decision as a team to stand for what we believe in.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers also decided as a group to stay in their locker room during the National Anthem at their game with the Chicago Bears. But Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva broke with his team and walked out of the tunnel for the National Anthem.
Villanueva was a captain and an Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan and received several medals for his service, including the Bronze Star. On Monday, he apologized for “throwing my teammates under the bus.”
“I thought, that shows America – that’s freedom to express what he believed in, he expressed what he believed in and that’s what it really about,” Bennett said. “What’s the difference between a guy kneeling for what he believes in and what he did standing up for what he believes in? We’re all saying the same thing.”
Bennett went on to defend the message behind players protesting during the national anthem.
“It’s about us taking a stand for equality in America, all the people that’s being discriminated against right now,” Bennett said. “People – you know, they think we’re attacking military, that’s not true, we believe in the military. And we do so many things with the military, from working with families, to working with the kids and doing camps, and our families have been in the military.”
Cooper asked Bennett how his views on inequality might have been impacted by a recent encounter he had with Las Vegas police. In August, Bennett said police unfairly singled him out, threatened him with a gun and detained him briefly after he attended a prizefight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor.
“It just makes me know that everything that we’re talking about, every issue that we bring up, there’s a reality for any one of us at anytime,” Bennett said. “And it happened to me and it can happen to anybody. But at the end of the day, I don’t hate law enforcement. I don’t hate any police officers. But I think there’s people out there that could judge — will judge you on the color of your skin.”
Asked what message he had for the President, Bennett said he would like to work with him on social justice, but continued to push back against Trump’s attacks on his right to protest.
“I would love to sit down with the President and talk about these issues and be able to find a way to fix them,” Bennett said.
“For him to say that it’s a privilege and we shouldn’t speak on what we believe in because we’re making money,” he added, “I mean, he was a rich man too, and all of a sudden, he’s speaking on what he believes in, and still stood up for what believes in and he’s the President of the United States. So, what makes him different from us?”