A year after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained nationwide attention when he knelt during the national anthem, conversations about racism in America again take the national spotlight following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson talked to CNN’s #GetPolitical series about sports, racism and politics and how his Christian faith defines his views. Watson, who spoke in January at the March for Life, which was headlined by Vice President Mike Pence, said he did not vote for President Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton and does not belong to either party.
Watson said he “was not disappointed in President Trump for initially not condemning white supremacists” because he “did not expect him to directly condemn those who so vehemently support him.”
“Whether we agree with him or not, my family and I pray for President Trump and his administration regularly … that his heart and eyes be opened to truth, justice and righteousness,” he said.
Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett, two other NFL players, sat during the national anthem Saturday as the white supremacy rally took place. Do you agree with their protest?
Watson: It pains me to see people not stand and honor the flag during the anthem. Even those who are busy talking, taking photos, eating or drinking. I believe every American should desire to stand for our anthem, but sometimes an American decides to use their agency to draw attention to an issue of concern. I support the players who decided to sit because they are not doing so flippantly but because of a sincere conviction. It is their decision. There is more than one way to advocate and be a voice.
There’s some outrage over Kaepernick not getting signed by an NFL team. What are your thoughts?
Watson: I wish the best for any player that desires to play in the league. Colin has proven to be a capable quarterback in the past, and he could definitely help an NFL franchise. This is why, with the context of last year, it is disturbing that he is not on a roster at this point of training camp.
Do you think Kaepernick is being punished for his political views?
Watson: His actions during the national anthem last year and the subsequent positive and negative reactions are an overwhelming part of the reason he has not been signed. There are a number of other factors that I am not privy to though, such as his willingness to join a team with an established starter, his desired salary, etc., that could also play into his current state of unemployment. NFL organizations are made up of people who have emotions and political viewpoints like everyone else. Some agree with him while others do not. It seems they have decided that his talent is not great enough to offset the anger many have expressed toward him and the threats towards teams who sign him.
Had you been on the field, would you have stood for the anthem?
Watson: There are some disgusting things that happen in this country and continue to happen in this country, not only in the past but also in the present. But it’s still my homeland, it’s still where my family lives, it’s still where I was born, it’s still the flag that I will raise and so, by default, I would say that we want to stand for our country until there’s a time when we feel like we can’t, and what I saw was a young man who decided that this was a time when he couldn’t stand for the national anthem, and that was his way of protest. … (Kaepernick) wasn’t violent, he exercised his rights, he started a conversation — and for that I applaud him. If I was playing this year, I would be standing, however, because for me, that’s not my mode of protest.
How did you feel when you saw images and news of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville?
Watson: Though it is startling and appalling to see these demonstrations in public, the existence of racism in America does not surprise me. That ideology is alive and well. We must not only condemn this overt display but challenge each other to identify the racism that lurks behind boardroom doors and that permeates every facet of life.
Some argue that politics and sports should not mix.
Watson: A lot of times (for athletes), the pushback is stick to your sport, stay out of politics, stay out of religion, stay out of anything controversial, but on the other hand, I say no. Because of your citizenship in this county, because we care about the outcomes that happen, we’re aware of what’s happening — we have a right to express ourselves just as much as anybody else does.
As a Christian, how do you reconcile faith and politics?
Watson: I’m a Christian, and as a Christian, that is who I am. It’s not just something that kind of goes alongside, so my beliefs as a Christian influence everything that I care about, influence everything that I do. It is not only a code of ethics, but the Bible talks about how we’re transformed inside out so we’re actually a new person. … I am not tied to being a Republican, I am not tied to being a Democrat, I’m not tied to being anything, I’m tied to looking at specific issues on their own merit … ultimately, the truth of the word of God is what I make those decisions based on, and sometimes that’s against what I feel.