Seattle Seahawk defensive lineman Michael Bennett spent his Saturday extolling the benefits of healthy eating and living to a group of local young families.
It was an event much like the man who was at the center of it all — loud, unique and ultimately thought-provoking.
For four hours Saturday morning and afternoon, Seahawk defensive lineman Michael Bennett roamed the grounds at Camp Korey in Carnation, microphone in hand, conducting his annual Ocean Health Fest, which as Bennett’s website says is designed “to educate young families on living a healthy and active lifestyle.’’
The foundation invites young families to attend at no cost, tasked first with taking part in a variety of exercises — jumping jacks, for instance, everyone asked to do 72 to match Bennett’s jersey number (the foundation estimated about 500 people in total attended the day). Among those helping man the exercise stations, which also included a football toss and a hula hoop contest, were Bennett’s brother, New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, and Seattle teammates such as Cliff Avril. A woman who showed up in a 49ers jersey got the inevitable razzing from Bennett and light booing from the crowd.
Then came lunch, though there was not a bag of chips or cookies to be found. Instead, turkey wraps and veggie sandwiches dominated the offerings, with carrots and other veggies available as side options.
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As everyone ate, Bennett surveyed the tables, awarding prizes — signed jerseys, footballs, etc. — for those who had the most “green’’ plates.
Throughout, Bennett extolled the benefits of healthy eating. At one point, he held up a bag of sugar he said matched that found in a popular ice tea. After asking if you can drink something like that and “pass like Russell Wilson or hit like Kam Chancellor’’ Bennett emphatically yelled no and threw the bag to the ground.
The day ended with a half-hour cooking demonstration of affordable and healthy dinners, with one of the three dishes prepared by Bennett’s personal chef. The goal was to show how quickly and cheaply healthy meals can be assembled. Throughout, Bennett explained the benefits of various ingredients — in the kind of thing you don’t see every day, Bennett held an egg plant aloft at point, then led the crowd through a “Sea-Hawks” chant, inserting the words “egg plant” instead.
As Bennett himself said later, there’s no problem with holding a football camp.
But it wasn’t what he wanted to do with the platform afford him as an increasingly visible NFL player.
Bennett said he remembers as a kid watching commercials featuring famous athletes advertise McDonald’s and other similar foods and drinks.
“You’d see Michael Jordan and all these guys eating all this kind of stuff and I’m like ‘man, this must be what they eat,’’’ he said in an interview following Saturday’s event. “Sometimes as an athlete I don’t think we really understand the influence that we have on people and sometimes we have to take a step away from it and make a stance that we are going to eat healthy.’’
Bennett said he came to realize the benefits of healthy eating gradually, saying it wasn’t until early in his NFL career he really began to change his habits.
That those changes occurred as he rose from being an undrafted free agent who was cut by the first team he played for —the Seahawks in 2009 — before becoming one of the best players in the NFL he doesn’t think is a coincidence.
“I noticed my game change when I really started taking my nutrition to the next level,’’ said Bennett, who signed a four-year, $28.5 million contract with the Seahawks in 2014 and last season was named the Defensive MVP of the Pro Bowl. “Ever since then I think it’s really changed my game.’’
During the season, Bennett’s personal chef helps prepare the family meals, including one for Bennett every Sunday at 7 a.m. on gamedays, something he has gradually emphasized the last four seasons.
“That’s how I stay so healthy during the season,’’ he said.
This is the third year of Bennett’s programs, which he also holds in Hawaii — where he lives in the off-season — and his native Houston.
“My whole goal is to change the way that kids eat at schools, what schools feed our kids,’’ he said. “You go to Europe, they understand. Their palete is way different from our kids. Our kids have the same choices over and over — chicken nuggets, French fries and macaroni and cheese. As a society we can’t be lazy to dumb our kids down as much as we do.’’