Martellus Bennett Believes Athletes Still Fear Speaking Out on Issues (Exclusive)

Martellus Bennett Believes Athletes Still Fear Speaking Out on Issues (Exclusive)

It’s pretty clear now that Colin Kaepernick isn’t coming back to the National Football League, as Super Bowl 2020 approaches, and we have another NFL season in the books without him, it’s time to think about his legacy. His  powerful impact that he made will be long-lasting. His decision to take a knee during the national anthem, as a gesture of protest against brutality and systemic racism within law enforcement, may ultimately pave the way for more football players to eventually speak out on the issues of the day while still active in their playing careers.

Former Chicago Bears tight end Martellus Bennett, in town this past week to do a public reading of his new children’s book “Dear Black Boy,” doesn’t believe that day is here yet though.

“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.

dear black boy

“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.”

Bennett is one of the most socially actively and publicly courageous NFL-related 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 the New England Patriots at Super Bowl Media Day 2017.

martellus bennett

“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 the 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.”

Kaepernick, #TakeAKnee and #BlackLivesMatter are three topics that have been covered extensively on this website, and also in my book “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry” which coincidentally went for sale on the exact day that I went to see Bennett speak and interview him.

haymarket memorial

memorial at a distance

The coincidences don’t end there, as this event took place just a stone’s throw from the Haymarket Martyr’s Monument, and given how Wednesday is in fact May Day, I encourage all of you passionate about the cause of social justice to visit both the sculpture, and Open Books.

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.

martellus bennett

“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.

colin kaepernick

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.”

martellus bennett

“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. Overall, it’s best to hear what Marty said just articulated in his own words.

The full Q&A is below, with the focus on Kaepernick on the protests occurring around the 16:30-25:00 mark:

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.

To hear him read from his book go to this link.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No,  I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly appears on WGN CLTV and co-hosts the “Let’s Get Weird, Sports” podcast on SB Nation

Banks, a former writer for NBC and Chicago, also contributes to Chicago NowFollow him on Twitter and Instagram. The content of his cat’s Instagram account is unquestionably superior to his.

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