A player for the Seattle Seahawks says the violent clashes during a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Va., largely motivated him to not stand for the national anthem during a pre-season NFL game on Sunday.

Michael Bennett, a defensive end, said he decided to protest during the anthem due to events that occurred "the last couples of months, especially after the last couple of days with everything in Virginia."

A white supremacist rally in Charlottesville Saturday resulted in large-scale clashes between the demonstrators and counterprotesters. One person died and at least 19 were injured when a car was driven into counterprotesters; the alleged driver of the car, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., who drove from Ohio to Charlottesville to participate in the demonstration, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

"First of all, I want people to understand that I love the military," he said.

ADVERTISEMENT
"My father's in the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don't love segregation. I don't love riots or oppression," Bennett said. ESPN first highlighted his remarks.

Bennett, who sat with a towel over his head during the anthem, said he will continue to sit during the national anthem and "use this platform to continuously push the message of that."

"I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve," he said. "Just because they are different doesn't mean you shouldn't like them."

One of Bennett's former teammates, Marshawn Lynch, similarly sat through the national anthem one day before Bennett decided to do so, according to reports.

Bennett's team did not know about his plan to protest, but he made a statement so he would not distract his teammates or other players when he did so.

"Let people attack me because they don't believe what I believe in, but at the end of the day, I'm being vulnerable to show every person that no matter [what] you believe in, keep fighting for it," Bennett said. "Keep fighting for equality. Keep fighting for oppressed people. And keep trying to change society."

Protests during the national anthem have become a recurring controversy in the NFL. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick took a knee during the anthem last year and now is a free agent, with teams reluctant to sign him.