We were determined to loathe and ignore the Oakland Raiders this season, as the team has one foot out the door now that their obnoxious move to Las Vegas is a done deal. (The team will move in 2019 or 2020.) But it became a little tougher to hate upon these Raiders once they traded for Skittle-loving local shopkeeper Marshawn Lynch in April, as Lynch represents the nice homecoming story of an Oakland Tech and UC Berkeley grad now playing for his hometown team. And it became impossible to ignore the Raiders after Saturday night’s preseason opener, when Lynch refused to stand for the national anthem according to the AP, taking the lead from Colin Kaepernick’s Star-Spangled Banner kneeling protest that created nonstop controversy last season.
Lynch did not play Saturday night, but it’s unlikely he was benched as punishment for refusing to rise. Most of the Raiders best-known stars were held out of the first preseason game, likely to minimize injury risk in an exhibition contest. Starting quarterback David Carr, All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack, and first-team linebacker Bruce Irvin were also healthy scratches for the game.
But Lynch made the biggest headline of any of the Raiders on Saturday, as he has a tendency to do. Oakland coach Jack Del Rio, who is known to be something of a Sean Hannity fan, downplayed the protest. “That’s a non-issue for me,” Del Rio told the AP. “[Lynch] said, ‘This is something I’ve done for 11 years. It’s not a form of anything other than me being myself’.”
Lynch himself did not speak to reporters, and is typically quite media-shy. But there is some dispute on the “11 years” claim, as ProFootballTalk has unearthed 2011 footage of Lynch standing for the anthem. Protesting the anthem was popularized by the now-exiled 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains unsigned amidst speculation he’s being blackballed for his national anthem protest.
For what it’s worth, the Raiders lost the meaningless exhibition game 20-10. In other not-standing-for-the-national-anthem news this weekend, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett also chose not to rise for the Star Spangled Banner, indicating this culture-war controversy will remain front and center during what is obviously already a rather tense moment in U.S. race relations.