Former Giants, Bears, Packers, Patriots and Cowboys tight end and NFL legend Martellus Bennett doesn’t believe the day has come where professional athletes have no reservations about speaking out on the issues.
“No, that fear is still there,” Bennett responded when we put this question to him during our exclusive conversation at Open Books, a literacy non-profit in the west loop neighborhood of Chicago. “It’s always going to be there- some guys feel they’re not at a level in their career where they can speak out, they don’t want to lose their job.”
“Some guys got to think about someone more than themselves, because for some guys this is the only way they can make money.”
Martellus has always been one of the most socially actively and publicly courageous NFL figures.
This was never more evident than when he spoke out against Trump, and a potential visit to the White House when he was with New England at Super Bowl Media Day 2017. Bennett’s children’s book, “Dear Black Boy” is an illustrated adaptation of the letter of encouragement Bennett wrote to young black boys following the Philando Castile and Alton Sterling shootings in 2016.
The overall message of this book is this: “young black boys, you are more than an athlete, a jersey number or great stats and that the biggest game you’ll play is the game of life.”
Overall, it’s telling the youth DO NOT just “stick to sports.”
Legendary sportscaster Bryant Gumbel once said that most of the time, when you interview athletes, nearly all of them will “think brand first,” thus leading to their talking without saying anything, or as Gumbel put it “you can’t get blood from a rock.”
He cited Russell Wilson as an example, which is absolutely perfect. Bennett is obviously, not like most athletes, but you knew that before you clicked over here.
I asked Bennett if he believes that being beholden to their brands is what restricts athletes from voicing their opinions on sociopolitical issues.
“I don’t have endorsements,” he answered.
“I never did during my career, but I think we’re getting to a point now where brands can no longer straddle the fence, so I think it’s going to help guys who stand for things if they team up with the right brands.
“Now brands have to show their cards. There’s also a lot of brands for social change,” the founder of the Imagination Agency said before giving an example- an ice cream company staying true to their hippy image and values.
“The other day on 4-20 Ben & Jerry’s tweeted out this story about the marijuana business and expunging records for people who have been in prisons for marijuana. Ben & Jerry’s said that, so it’s pretty cool.”
After his reading, Bennett did some Q&A, and the topic of Kaepernick and the protests during the national anthem was brought up.
Marty’s brother, New England Patriots defensive end Michael Bennett, is close with the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
Both Bennetts participated in #TakeAKnee with Marty telling the room about what happened in Green Bay.
“The whole experience as a guy who took a knee or raised his fist, it was a traumatic experience, I’ve done it myself. I don’t even want to drive in Wisconsin, they’ll start pulling me over- it’s actually the most racist place in the U.S. in terms of the incarceration rate for blacks.”
“Every person had an individual experience with that, it was hard to have a group experience with that, some places were a little bit different. Some people were a little bit different.”
Bennett gave a long explanation of how it was impossible to get everybody on the same page with this movement, and how that was the biggest obstacle standing in its way. He also pointed out how the media spun it the wrong way and the President spewed hate and nonsense in regards to it.
For his work with The Imagination Agency, Bennett was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 (he delivered a keynote address at the Summit), Adweek Creative 100 and The Root 100 lists. He’s also spoken at NASA SpaceCom, SXSW and Hashtag Sports Conference.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”
He has regularly appeared in WGN, Sports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and he co-hosts the After Extra Time podcast, part of Edge of the Crowd Network. Follow him and the website on Twitter and Instagram.