UPDATED 10:25 p.m. ET: Another NFL player scheduled to be a part of the delegation, Miami wide receiver Kenny Stills, has indicated via Twitter that he is dropping out of the trip to Israel as well.
Original story below:
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has chosen to back out of an Israeli-government sponsored trip to Israel with fellow NFL players. Activists had urged Bennett to pull out of the trip in protest of human rights violations against Palestinians.
Bennett explained his reasoning in a lengthy statement that he posted on Twitter.
“One of my heroes has always been Muhammad Ali,” Bennett wrote. “I know that Ali always stood strongly with the Palestinian people, visiting refugee camps, going to rallies, and always willing to be a ‘voice for the voiceless.’ I want to be a ‘voice for the voiceless,’ and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.”
With the absence of Bennett and his brother, Martellus, the New England Patriots tight end, the number of NFL players scheduled to visit Israel as part of the goodwill tour sponsored by the Israeli government has shrunk from 11 to nine. (Martellus has also announced he will not visit President Donald Trump in the White House.)
A number of musicians, artists, and social justice advocates signed an open letter Thursday asking the athletes to withdraw from the trip.
The letter urged the players “to consider the political ramifications of attending the trip, drawing connections between the struggles faced by Black and Brown communities in the U.S., and Palestinian, Eritrean and Sudanese communities in Israel/Palestine.’’
“I see great importance in the arrival of this delegation of NFL stars to Israel,” Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Gilad Erdan said. “I have no doubt that their visit will be a powerful experience for them and I hope that, through their visit, they will get a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world. I hope that the players will present the beautiful face of Israel to their tens of millions of fans in the United States.’’
The others scheduled to attend the trip: Oakland defensive tackle Dan Williams, Titans tight end Delanie Walker, San Francisco running back Carlos Hyde, Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan, Miami receiver Kenny Stills, Arizona defensive lineman Calais Campbell, Denver running back Justin Forsett, and ESPN commentator and former NFL linebacker Kirk Morrison.