I made an assumption regarding the aftermath of a postgame exchange between the Seahawks defensive end and a reporter. That led to a misrepresentation, which led to an unfair critique. I apologize for that, to both Bennett and readers.
There will be no excuses here, no justifications, no attempts to explain it away.
I made a mistake this weekend. And I want to apologize.
In Sunday’s editions of the Seattle Times and online at seattletimes.com, I wrote a column entitled “Seahawks’ Michael Bennett does great things, but why the immaturity?” In it, I cited a host of qualities that made Bennett one of the NFL’s most interesting and admirable players.
He’s a great quote. He’s fearless in his political stances. He’s committed to multiple charities. And he’s one of the toughest, most talented players in the league.
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But in the second half of the piece, I added some criticism. I suggested that if Bennett wants to maximize the power of his platform, he has to dispense with his erratic, sometimes off-putting behavior.
From the column: “I was 10 feet away from Bennett after that playoff loss to the Falcons when he ripped into a reporter for asking a fair question about the pass rush. He called him a “non-playing (expletive)” and asked what kind of adversity he’d been through, implying that there was no way it could be on par with an NFL player. Well, that reporter survived cancer, which Bennett obviously didn’t know. But the fact that he never apologized or even acknowledged it reeks of immaturity.”
I expected the story to be explosive. What I didn’t expect was a full-on mushroom cloud.
After catching wind of the column, Bennett took to Twitter to say he would never talk to our paper for the rest of his career, and he would encourage his teammates to do the same. Fans then directed hundreds of angry tweets my way, and national outlets picked up the piece.
I admit I was rattled, but after talking to friends and colleagues, I slept soundly Sunday night knowing I’d written exactly what I believed. But when I turned on the radio Monday morning, my heart sank to my stomach. It’s still down there.
At 10 a.m., ESPN 710’s Gee Scott joined John Clayton to discuss my column. And while doing so, Scott emphasized that Bennett had privately apologized to Bill Wixey, the Q13 reporter he berated in Atlanta. Q13’s news director confirmed as much, adding that Bennett and Wixey “left the conversation in a good place.”
I was happy for Wixey. I was horrified at myself.
Bennett’s profanity-laced tirade wasn’t the only example I used when questioning his conduct, but it was my primary argument. Any time he promoted a charity or spoke out on an issue, I’d think, “Great, but you can’t tell one guy you’re sorry?”
Except he did say sorry. He just didn’t do it publicly.
Sure, there is still a part of me that wonders why Bennett kept it private. If he is serious about being a role model, I feel like it would have been in his best interest to show his contrition to the world. But it’s also possible that Wixey, who couldn’t be reached for comment, asked Bennett to keep the apology between them so the story would die. I just don’t know.
What I do know is that I should have reached out to Wixey before posting my column. The fact that I didn’t was just plain lazy.
I made an assumption, which led to a misrepresentation, which led to an unfair critique. I apologize for that.
I apologize, first and foremost, to Michael Bennett, who read the column after hosting a pair of charity events this weekend. As I said throughout my story, and later in a tweet, I have great respect for the defensive end who is trying to make a difference.
Is his boycott an overreaction? Maybe if everything I wrote were true. But considering I distorted the facts, I can understand his anger.
I also apologize to the readers. Credibility is everything in my profession, and I just undermined my own.
It’s one thing to post a wrong score or misspell a name. It’s another to build a premise around false information.
Hopefully nobody sees this is as a surrender to blowback. If columnists aren’t swimming in vitriol from time to time, they probably aren’t doing their jobs. But if columnists are making claims without doing the necessary reporting, they definitely aren’t doing their jobs.
So once more, my bad.
Part of my duty is to hold people accountable. That includes myself.