Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett showed up at training camp Saturday, and he showed up wearing a “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt.
And as he talked about his own feelings and issues that mattered to him, he challenged other NFL players to follow the lead of their basketball counterparts, who have been more outspoken in recent weeks.
“The women and WNBA have really stood up for what they want, and I think that it’s time for the players in the NFL,” Bennett said of recent protests, via Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com. “But a lot of things in the NFL are so broken. You don’t see a lot of great players talking about things socially, whether it’s Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, all of these guys, they’re white. They don’t have to deal with the things that we deal with as black players, so it’s not as many.
“In the NBA, everybody is standing up for it, so the greatest players are in the forefront of the movement. Here in the NFL, the greatest players aren’t in the forefront of the movement. Whether it’s the CBA, whether it’s things going on with trying to change the way — concussions. The greatest players aren’t involved like LeBron James, Chris Paul and all these guys [in the NBA]. Our great players are sitting back just taking the dollars, whether it’s Cam Newton, all these guys. They’re not really on the forefront of trying to change what’s going on.”
While that’s an immediately unfair position to put Newton in — his visit to the families of Charleston church shooting victims last year stands out — Bennett’s greater point was that the league as a whole wasn’t using its platform to promote social justice.
“Eventually, we’ll have to get together as a whole sports community, because at the end of the day, athletes have a brand, and we control what is sold in America,” Bennett said. “Whatever is sold, usually we’re the conduits to whatever it is. So whether it’s shoes, clothes, whatever, a drink, soda, food — athletes hold the key to what people want.
“So as athletes, we need to start controlling that influence and keep it positive and not always about dollar to dollar.”
Of course, not every athlete feels the same obligation as Bennett, and some who won’t commit to knowing what they’re talking about perhaps shouldn’t talk. And while singling out one star distracts from Bennett’s point, there are clearly many in the NFL who could exert their influence in that way if they chose to, and do not.