Wearing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt after Seahawks practice Saturday, Bennett said stars like Cam Newton have not done enough and “are sitting back just taking the dollars.”
RENTON — The man some thought would be absent turned out to be the most visible Seahawk of the day. The man some thought would make news by sitting out made it by standing up instead.
After the Seahawks’ first training-camp practice Saturday, defensive end Michael Bennett emerged from the locker room wearing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt. He knew he would be addressing reporters on the podium, and wanted to make a statement that went beyond contract talks and guaranteed cash.
When asked about his attire, Bennett said he felt compelled to be an advocate for social issues and do his part to help the community. He then chastised some of his NFL brethren for their failure to follow suit.
A lot of people weren’t sure if Bennett would even practice on Saturday due to his displeasure with his contract. He didn’t hold out, though — nor did he hold back.
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“In the NBA, the greatest players are at the forefront of the movement. In the NFL, the greatest players aren’t,” said Bennett, who has voiced his support of Black Lives Matter in the past. “Our great players are sitting back just taking the dollars, whether it’s Cam Newton or other guys.”
Strong words from No. 72, but he has strong feelings on the subject. He also knows he has a strong following and can spark a discussion that might not otherwise be had.
Bennett’s primary point Saturday was that professional athletes can shape the public’s view on anything from shoes, to food, to clothing to soda — so why not extend the influence to current events?
This would be a different matter if Bennett didn’t sink serious brain power into the topics he discusses. But whether it’s Black Lives Matter or the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the man has considered his talking points carefully.
Can he rile people up? Yes.
Are his viewpoints correct? Well, that depends on who you ask.
It is no secret that Bennett and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman have differing perspectives regarding Black Lives Matter. Sherman has caught flak for his reluctance to fully support the movement, but defended his “All Lives Matter” stance in a recent interview with ESPN’s “The Undefeated.”
The thing is, this isn’t necessarily about who’s right or wrong. This is about two Pro Bowlers advancing a conversation in a way seldom seen in sports today.
As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Saturday: “People think very differently about all of the things that have been going on, and that’s a good thing.”
Bennett was bang-on when he said that athletes are reticent on certain matters because they fear financial loss. The safe route is to shut up, take the endorsement checks and count the money the way Michael Jordan did for years.
But there are exponentially more millionaires in the world than there are people with a star athlete’s platform. Why sacrifice something so rare?
“When kids say they want me to be their role model, I always ask them why? They say it’s ‘because you play so great on the field,’ but I tell them that’s a terrible reason to have a role model,” Bennett said. “When young kids look up to me, I want them to be like, ‘Man, this is a guy that’s pushing for everything.’ ”
Two quick side notes:
1) Not all athletes should feel obligated to take public stances simply because they are famous. That isn’t part of their job description. We don’t require politicians to be able to throw a change-up or hit an open jumper.
2) If they don’t know what they’re talking about, athletes really shouldn’t take public stances. Like any power, influence is dangerous when abused.
But when you see some of our more thoughtful sports stars make themselves vulnerable, you can’t help but feel admiration. And when you some players incessantly censor themselves, you can’t help but feel disappointment.
Saturday, Michael Bennett earned the respect of his teammates by showing up. And hopefully, he earned the respect of the public by speaking up.