Martellus Bennett, social activist and former NFL player, said that fans would become more aware of police brutality and racial injustice if well-known quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees would protest the national anthem. “If they were to take a knee with Colin Kaepernick, that conversation would totally change,” he told controversial sports reporter Jemele Hill this week at the Athletes + Activism forum.
“If Peyton Manning joined the conversation, the conversation in the NFL would change. If Drew Brees came in and really joined the conversation, it would change. Tom Brady. All these great white heroes that they have running around, throwing the football — if they jump into the conversation, it would be so much bigger,” Bennett told Yahoo News.
During his playing days, Bennett was among those on the field who helped propagate the controversial and divisive issue of using the playing field as their forum for activism and the national anthem as a way of trying to shame their political opponents and that resulted in countless loyal fans turning away from the National Football League.
Playing for the Green Bay Packers, Bennett raised a black-gloved fist during the national anthem. When he was with the New England Patriots, he chose to stay in the locker room for the playing of the anthem.
“If they were to take a knee with Colin Kaepernick, that conversation would totally change,” Bennett said of some the most well-known quarterbacks in the league. “If Tom Brady took a knee, white America would be like, ‘Oh my God. What is this that Tom Brady’s talking about?’ They would start doing research and would join in the conversation. It would pique their interest. But since it’s a black guy taking a knee, it’s like, ‘Alright, these guys, here he goes again. It’s another one of these guys out here doing this.'”
“I think it’s important for athletes to have a space in which it’s okay for them to express and support a lot of issues they are passionate about,” said Hill who is now a staff writer for the Atlantic and who served as program moderator for the Athletes + Activism forum, intended to be starting point for continued dialogue in the public space about sports activism. “I think they can be made to feel by larger society that because they’re professional athletes or because maybe in some cases they’ve risen to a certain income level, that they should just be content with what they have and let society just work itself out.”
“With a conference or platform like this one,” she continued, “they’re able to remind people of what they care about. They don’t just care about their sport. They’ve done a lot of things to try to support their individual communities. It’s just another way of making athletes, especially athletes of color, feel like they have a sense of belonging.”
“I think this is a conversation everyone should have,” said Bennett. “It’s not just people who have a big platform or small platform. Every platform matters because you are in your community. For us to be able to be the voice of the voiceless for those who can’t be heard and be a reflection of our community, we have to speak on their behalf when we get a chance to. It’s really important for everyone to use their platform no matter how big or small it is.”
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