A Seahawks Player And A Group Of Veterans Talked Out Their Differences Over The National Anthem Protests

"We greeted him very warmly. We had a very nice discussion where he said we’re not disrespecting the flag, we're trying to make a statement," said one veteran.

After President Trump said that NFL players who protest police brutality by not standing during the national anthem was a "son of a bitch" who should be fired, the Seattle Seahawks stayed in their locker room during the anthem on Sunday before their game.

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It was part of a series of protests by NFL players and teams all weekend against the president's comments.

But a group of Seattle veterans, many of whom served in the Vietnam War, were offended by the Seahawks action that they headed to the team's headquarters at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center on Tuesday to protest.

Gary Dagan

"Basically there was a group of veterans who decided we did not agree the disrespect shown to the flag," Gary Dagan, a 73-year-old Vietnam Era pilot, told BuzzFeed News.

"We were not going to be confrontational, we were just going to stand there quietly with the flag, and make a statement that we like the flag," said Dagan.

So a dozen veterans, who served in the Navy, Marines, Air Force and Army, stood next to an American flag, with their backs to the Seahawks headquarters.

"The one thing that unites us, or should unite us, is the flag. We don't think that the flag is what separates us. We feel as veterans, who served under that flag, we feel the flag should be off limits," said Dagan.

After about an hour and a half, a car stopped. "We noticed a big Rolls Royce came by, stopped in the middle of the road and out came one of the Seahawks players, Michael Bennett," said Dagan.

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Bennett, 31, is "basically the most vocal of the Seahawks," added Dagan.

Bennett began sitting during the national anthem after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August, and said at the time that he planned to do so all season. "I just wanted to remember why we were American citizens, remember the freedom, the liberty and the equality, make sure we never forget that," he said.

Jeffrey Phelps / AP

His teammate, Justin Britt, began standing next to him as a show of support, after Bennett noted that black players needed white players to help them.

In the street, outside the club's headquarters, Bennett and the veterans began chatting. "We greeted him very warmly. We had a very nice discussion where he said we’re not disrespecting the flag, we're trying to make a statement," said Dagan.

Gary Dagan

The veterans and Bennett shared both of their perspectives with each other.

"Michael Bennett explained to us that we don't know what its like to grow up as a black man in America. There's a lot of injustice that’s happening, that they’re trying to call attention to that," explained Dagan, who acknowledged that he and the other veterans protesting were white.

"But we’re all Vietnam-era vets and we know what it’s like to be yelled at and screamed at and shunned by the public. We were called baby killers and had blood and urine thrown at us. We know what it's like to be discriminated against because we wore the uniform," said Dagan.

"Many of us lost good friends and comrades-in-arms and it makes us very emotional for the flag and what it stands for," added Dagan.

Dagan also noted that he didn't agree that footbal players should be able to protest the anthem because of freedom of speech, and that he didn't think a football game was an appropriate venue.

"Freedom of speech is something we fought for, they have that freedom because of the veterans efforts," said Dagan. "We feel them we gave them the right to express their opinions, but there is a time and place for everything."

Bennett disagrees with that assessment. "Is there really a time that we shouldn't be talking about equality?” the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl defensive end said Thursday during a press conference.

Joe Nicholson / USA Today Sports

“Is there really a time that we should be talking about racial discrimination? Is there really a time that we shouldn’t be talking about women’s equality? Is there really a time that we shouldn’t be talking about water issues for Native American peoples? When is there not the time to talk about that?" asked Bennett.

“We find time to talk about the Kardashians. We find time to talk about fantasy football," he continued.

Bennett explained on Thursday why he stopped to speak with the veterans, even though he knew they disagreed with his actions. “When I’m driving and I see the vets, I could easily just drive past and be like, 'My opinion is right, ' but for me to be a great leader, you have to be able to listen to the other people. You have to go out and talk to them," said Bennett.

Dayna Mink-Coats

Bennett explained in the press conferences that encounters such as the one on Tuesday "are times when you grow as a person."

He noted that it was special to "get a chance to actually hear what people are really wanting to talk to you about, you get to see their emotions, you get to see a person change as you talk to them and, for me, I cherish those moments."

Meeting with the veterans offered a chance to "gracefully disagree and still have respect for each other," said Bennett.

"That ability to be uncomfortable and be vulnerable in front of each other is something that doesn't happen very often in this day and time," said Bennett.

At the moment the veterans met Bennett, Dayna Mink-Coats, a real estate agent who lives next-door to the training facility, drove past. "I thought it might be a car accident so I snapped a picture. As I got closer I realized it was group of military veterans who had assembled in front of the VMAC," she wrote on a now-viral Facebook post.

Dayna Mink-Coats

"Just as I drove by I witnessed Michael and a veteran shaking hands and smiling. I was so excited, I snapped another picture. Suddenly, that image brought an unexpected wave of extreme emotion over me and I instantly and almost uncontrollably started bawling. sobbing so hard and shaking, I had to pull over to catch my composure," she wrote.

Bennett walked over to her car to speak with her. Mink-Coats wrote that she told him: “Michael, I am so torn and I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to disrespect our country, our flag or my husband who’s in the military but I want to understand. I’m a big Seahawks fan and I don’t know what to do?” The pair spoke for about 20 minutes.

Facebook: dayna.minkcoats

Mink-Coats (yes, her real name!) is a military wife and her husband has served for 33 years. She told BuzzFeed News that protests around the anthem and discussions about the protests are "challenging" but that interactions like the one on Tuesday give her hope.

Dayna Mink-Coats

"It’s hard because you feel strongly about how you feel and the truth is, I was willing to listen to him," she said.

"I feel like there is really, truly a willingness to move in a good direction," said Mink-Coats. Thousands of people have shared and commented on her post, and discussed the issue in the comments.

"I'm encouraged, and I'm inspired by what people have been writing and saying and how they’ve been responding to each other," she said.

No one changed anyone's mind — but they listened to each other.

Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports

Dagan noted that he was waiting to see if the protests continue during this weekend's Seahawks game. "He stated his case, we stated our case, the things about it is: what’s going to come of it? We don't know."

Since the anthem controversy started, Dagan said he's stopped watching Seahawks games. "Will they gain me back? I don't know. Right now, I'm watching college football, if they start pulling these shenanigans, I’ll need to find another hobby."

But even if no agreement found yet, Mink-Coats is grateful that discussions are happening.

"That face-to-face human interaction is so much more important than any post in any news media spin on it. Literally, sitting down and talking with the two sides, or three sides, or how ever many sides there are. You don't have to agree, and you don't have to abandon how you truly feel and believe to at least understand where the other person is coming from," she said.