Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett sat on the bench during the playing of the national anthem before his team’s preseason-opener against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center on Sunday, and explained why he will continue this action.

Michael Bennett national anthem protest news

Bennett, 31, said he wishes to encourage the continuation of conversations on diversity between disparate groups of people, adding that this is the only way to ensure progress in a contemporary American society that has become riddled by violence, hatred and racial discrimination.

“I hope that I can activate everybody to get off their hands and feet and go out into the communities and push helping each other,” the two-time Pro Bowler — who is black — told reporters after Sunday’s game. “Sit down with somebody that’s the opposite sex, sit down with somebody that’s the opposite race, different religion and understand that people are different and go out and join the community and try to change the society, change what you’re a part of. If you don’t like it, keep changing it.”

Bennett’s comments follow the unraveling of violent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend that saw white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other “alt-right” groups clash with counter-protesters. The extremist groups held a “Unite the Right” rally to express their opposition to the city council’s removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and dozens were injured and one woman died after a car rammed into the crowd of protesters in downtown Charlottesville on Saturday.

“Charlottesville had a lot to do with it but I think it’s just the journey of who I am as a person,” added Bennett, who is entering his fifth season with the Seahawks. “I think everybody has a time where they feel like they need to be who they are and stand up for what they believe in.”

The defensive end has spoken out many times before about racial, religious or political issues. Bennett was among several notable figures who supported free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick after the former San Francisco 49ers passer began sitting or kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before NFL games last season as a way to protest the unjust oppression of minorities, especially at the hands of police. Bennett and several other Seahawks linked arms or raised their fists before games last season as a way to continue the protest.

Bennett added that he refuses to let any criticism he may receive for making such bold statements stop him from taking a stand against American values like integration and equality.

“Of course I’m going to face backlash,” he said. “This is bigger than me. This is bigger than football. This is bigger than anything that we have any different. This is about people. This is about bringing opportunities to people, giving people equality. This is bigger than a sport.”

Bennett said he did not speak to his former teammate, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, who did not stand for the playing of the national anthem during Saturday’s loss against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Kaepernick has not yet been signed by a team, partly because of the stance he took that has made him a pariah in the NFL.

Bennett was asked earlier this season what he believes it will take for a team to sign Kaepernick, and the defensive end responded that he thinks it will be up to to any given team to put things in perspective and realize how absurd it is that there remain several active NFL players who have actually committed crimes as opposed to simply making a bold statement like the former 49ers star did.

“It’s going to take the organization,” Bennett said. “I think the players have spoken up enough. I think the media has spoken up. It just takes the ownership for someone to say we want this guy in our locker room. I think a lot of teams, like we said before, were really affected by what he did and what he did this year. It wasn’t criminal.

“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. It’s crazy to see this guy not have an opportunity in the NFL. It’s just weird. I mean, some quarterbacks, as we all know, shouldn’t be playing, but they are, and this guy is sitting on the side. We all know why. It’s just hard to fathom that he’s not having a job this year.”

The Seahawks beat the Chargers 48-17 on Sunday.

Caption:GLENDALE, AZ – JANUARY 03: Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals carries the football in front of defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 3, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Seahawks defeated the Cardinals 36-6. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

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