Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett drew attention earlier this month when he backed out of a trip with fellow NFL players to Israel. The trip was sponsored by the Israeli government.
"One of my heroes has always been Muhammad Ali," Bennett wrote at the time. "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."
Today, Democracy Now!, an independent daily news hour, aired an interview with Bennett, and he spoke further on his decision and other racial issues facing America in 2017.
"Nothing really matters if—how many touchdowns I score, if another black kid is shot and killed," Bennett said. "Doesn’t matter how many sacks I get, if the education system is unfair for black youth or people of color youth. Doesn’t matter how many times I hit Tom Brady or any other quarterback, if there’s a wall being built."
Bennett has not been shy in criticizing new U.S. President Donald Trump. Neither has Bennett’s brother, New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, who declined to visit Trump at the White House after the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory.
"I think he doesn’t want to support something that’s a system that’s keeping people of color down, a systematic system that is keeping people of color down," Michael Bennett said. "I think he doesn’t want to participate in that. And I could understand that."
Bennett also voiced support for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the National Anthem. With a full NFL season in the books since Kaepernick’s controversial stance in the preseason, players have had time to reflect on its impact.
"The greatest thing about what [Kaepernick] did wasn’t that the adults were having a conversation about it; it was that the young people were having a conversation about it,” Bennett said. “It was the 10-year-old, 9-year-old teams. You know, they’re not even getting paid in the NFL, and they just—they’re fearless. They’re taking a knee… And then you take the middle school teams that are taking a knee, and there’s not even a lot of fans in the stadium, but they’re taking that knee. And you see high school people doing it, and you see college people doing it. Then you see guys in the NFL doing it. And it’s like, man, that started a fire…He did something really special. And really, it all started with a knee."
Bennett’s decision to pull out of the Israel trip also started a fire. Though 11 NFL players initially accepted the invitation, only five ultimately made the trip.