Michael Bennett, the Media, and the Seahawks Culture

Oct 16, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (72) during a NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (72) during a NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

When Pete Carroll came to town, he said he would be open to allowing the players that he coached the ability to be who they are. Many skeptics at the time didn’t believe that his style of coaching would win games. Michael Bennett is the latest player to put his style to the test.

Those same skeptics laughed at his coaching style his first few years in Seattle, until 2013, when that team took home the Lombardi trophy in a convincing way.

Throughout the years, the Seahawks brass have proven that when a player feels comfortable in his surroundings by promoting the idea that they can be who they are, not only does the player feel happier, but they begin to play for personal success; as well as playing for each other.

This is one significant reason why the Seahawks would invite Colin Kaepernick with open arms into camp and why he’s a good fit in Seattle; the Seahawks allow our players to be who they are.

Michael Bennett, for all of his on-field genius, allowed a reporter or two to get under his skin. I believe that this behavior of one of the team’s most vocal leaders could hurt the team, in the long-run.

How it translates to the field

One could argue that a player ranting or standing up against the media is just that one player being disgruntled. No harm done; I could buy that. However, in the case of Michael Bennett, he said he would boycott an entire news organization for his personal beef with one reporter, and suggested his teammates follow suit.

Attitude reflects leadership and if one of the Seahawks’ most vocal leaders is showing disgruntlement in the locker room it can translate to the field. There’s already a ton of pressure put on the new guys to showcase why the team signed them.

New players aren’t likely to handle this like veterans

New players, especially the ones the Seahawks may be leaning on (new offensive linemen, or our newest DL second round draft pick McDowell, for example) may not know how to handle Michael Bennett asking them to boycott a reporter, or an entire newspaper.

Maybe the new player talks to the Bennett-banned reporter or his paper. In this case, that would be Matt Calkins and The Seattle Times. Maybe now the new kid worries that Bennett will hold it against him. There’s a good chance that he might worry that he doesn’t fit in with his new team and is more focused on the team dynamics than focusing on his on-field assignments.

Perhaps I am taking this to an unreasonable level, but have you ever been in a new job where the veterans in the organization somewhat run the business? Sure, there are bosses (like Pete Carroll), but the employees who have been there the longest often have a major impact on the business culture (right, wrong or indifferent).

Where is the limit?

I don’t envision Coach Carroll said to Seahawks owner Paul Allen during his interview for the head coaching job that he would allow the players to play authentically to the point where it becomes a distraction.

I’m sure Mr. Allen asked a few questions regarding how Carroll was going to allow his team to play authentically and that he asked him, when’s enough enough?

Where is the limit? How long will the Seahawks brass allow a player to play authentically to where the team doesn’t get distracted and lose focus of the end goals? Every training camp, the goal for the team is to at least win the NFC West.

Does boycotting the media help or distract the entire team’s overall focus of winning the NFC West? It certainly can’t help, but the Seahawks have managed it pretty well in the past.

Beastmode and Sherman played the media game too

We can point to Beastmode and Richard Sherman for doing the same over the past few years. The season in which the team went all the way and won the ultimate prize, Beastmode rarely spoke to the media with anything other than repeated canned responses. We all remember the “I’m just here so I won’t get fined” comment he made over and over again to the media prior to playing in the Super Bowl (before the 1-yard loss to the Patriots).

Sherman boycotted 710 AM’s Jim Moore for a spell recently over a disagreement they had.

Carroll’s and Schneider’s approach to setting up a business culture that prioritizes the player’s overall happiness over many other attributes that comes with suiting up in blue and green hasn’t cost the Seahawks any wins (yet).

Timing is everything

Could Bennett’s stance on boycotting The Seattle Times hurt the team? Since his tweet that he would not speak to the Times was done so early in the off-season, I venture to say it wouldn’t have.

The new guys coming in will most likely follow suit with Bennett, for fear of not being able to fit in with him. The guys that are returning will probably say that this is Bennett being Bennett and that it’s not a distraction.

Had Bennett’s tweet come during the season or if the team was in a two-game losing streak, how would it have affected the team? I would argue that this allowance of ‘playing to your authentic self’ discussion would take on a whole new meaning.

The Patriots have their own approach to outspoken players

The Seahawks brass know how to reel a player back in, even if the player is so far off the homestead that it is now being a distraction to the whole team. Since teams like the New England Patriots reign in players in the media, their coaching staff doesn’t have to worry about having to reel players back into their way of thinking. They just either trade you, cut you or plain just don’t re-sign you.

Living The Patriots Way has worked very well for New England. The business culture that is set up by the team is just an extension of the guys that are leading the business culture. This is why there is a symbiotic relationship between owner and head coach. Coach Carroll and Paul Allen get along well because they believe in the same leadership attributes, similar to how Coach Belichick and Robert Kraft get along.

The Seahawks look at it very differently

Coach Carroll probably went up to Schneider and said, let’s talk to Sherman about the rants, for example. They listened to Sherm and allowed him to speak on what was making him so mad. They went as far as listening to Sherm say he wanted to test the trade market so that he could get a fresh start somewhere else.

In New England, I’m pretty sure, Sherman would’ve been traded already and the Patriots would just move on to the next DB that they either got in free agency or in the draft.

Again, that is The Patriots Way of handling business, which I for one, am happy that we don’t have here in Seattle. Since the team knew how to reel him back in, we now get at least one more year of Sherman. This means Seattle has a chance for a top five defense again.

The business culture in Seattle indeed is different than most of the league. I’m sure in about 10 years, social scientists will dissect every part of how this business culture is and what worked. And conversely, what didn’t work.

I for one am all for a player to be happy. A happy player will do more for the organization over time than a player who is led by ego, money or greed. I am not happy, however, if a player’s happiness supersedes the overall winning and relaxed business culture it takes to endure a long football season.

Michael Bennett has to reduce the noise

I teach young people to reduce the noise. This is a phrase that Bennett’s own teammate, Russell Wilson, uses in his own life. People are going to talk crap about us no matter what, even when we do well. When they criticize us, try to turn others against us, only we know the full truth regarding what they are criticizing us about.

We can give them all of the energy and control of our own emotions or we can reduce the noise and turn our attention and focus where it belongs. In this case, Bennett’s own chase for a second Lombardi.

All’s well that ends well

In a happy resolution, Michael Bennett and Matt Calkins have come to an understanding. In an article for the Seattle Times yesterday, Calkins apologized to Bennett. Michael may not have been talking to the Times, but he (or someone close to him) was apparently reading it, as Bennett tweeted this in response:

“Although I was offended by your attacks on my character, I admire and respect your willingness to admit you were wrong about me,” Bennett wrote in a Twitter message directed at Calkins and the Times’ twitter accounts Monday night. “I care deeply for social causes, for our fans and I’m not afraid to make a stand even if it makes me unpopular at time I will continue to lead organically n staying true to what I feel is right I love this city n I love the people.”

I know that it’s very difficult to reduce the noise when a microscope is set squarely in your direction. However, putting energy where it belongs will only help the player focus. It appears that Bennett is focused again, if he ever wasn’t. There is no one that can stop him from achieving his ultimate goal, another Lombardi Trophy.