You can hear the pleads on video. Amongst the vibrant glitz and glamor lighting the Las Vegas Strip Michael Bennett asks, “What did I do?” The officer has Bennett pinned down with his knee, cuffing his wrists together. The video shuts off.
With just the video as evidence it looks like another case of a professional athlete–with everything glittered in gold in front of him–faltering. Bennett, however, has a different response. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Seattle Seahawk laid helpless on the hard concrete August 26. The latest alleged victim of systemic police abuse of power.
A round of gun shots rang out during the aftermath of the Connor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather fight. A police officer targeted Bennett and told him to get on the ground and not move, or else he would “blow [his] f*cking head off.”
“All I could think of was ‘I’m going to die for no other reason than I am black and my skin color is somehow a threat,'” Bennett said in a statement. “My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of my girls. Would I ever play with them again? or watch them have kids? Or be able to kiss my wife again and tell her I love her?”
— Michael Bennett (@mosesbread72) September 6, 2017
The alleged direct experience Bennett faced (Las Vegas Police Department’s only comment is “They’re working on it.”) is raw and fresh. For years, however, Bennett has been a spokesperson for the voiceless. His fight for social justice has been linked to his name just as much as the destruction he causes on Sundays.
When Bennett sat for the National Anthem during this season’s first preseason game, he wanted to make his reasoning clear.
“First of all, I want people to understand that I love the military,” Bennett said.
“My father’s in the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots or oppression. I just want to see people have the equality that they deserve. And I want to be able to use this platform to continuously push the message of that.”
Bennett has made it clear he wants to carry on the torch Colin Kaepernick lit last year. He also protested each Anthem last season, but it was Kaepernick who received most of the media attention. Bennett wants to change the narrative that has left Colin Kaepernick looking for a job despite being, statistically, one of the 20 best quarterbacks in the league.
In an interview with The Undefeated, Bennett talked about the necessity to listen to the message rather than be blinded by the action of the protest.
“Don’t love us just when we catch the ball. Love us for our culture and what we’re going through and what we did in society and how we’ve been persecuted since we’ve been here.
“We need your help.”
Bennet has been using his stature and power to help since entered the league in 2009. No one’s off limits from actions perceived as unjust.
Last summer, Golden State Guard Steph Curry held a basketball camp at BYU-Hawaii on the North Shore of O’ahu, Bennett’s adopted hometown. When Bennett received word Curry was charging $2,250 to overnight campers, Bennett spoke out.
“I see a lot of different athletes come through Hawaii whether it’s Steph Curry or whoever it is,” Bennett said. “They all come here and it makes me mad, because I live in this community and I understand this community — that there’s so many kids who can’t afford to pay such a high amount of money. In my mind it’s like, how much money do you need before you start giving back for free? And I think a lot of athletes should start focusing on that.”
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) July 10, 2017
When Bennet visited Sioux in South Dakota he said, ““I think you just have to stop believing that things are fair and things are equal. I mean, I know sometimes when you’re living your life, you seem like life is so easy and so good, until you experience how other people are living.”
That’s the beauty of Bennett. It would be easy for him to focus on the injustices against African Americans. There’s enough there to occupy even the most ardent activist. Yet, Bennett speaks out for all.
At the same time, it’s what makes these latest allegations so troubling. A rich, NFL all-star, and vocal activist was singled out for alleged police abuse. What can we say for those who lack the means to make this a national story, or the funds to defend themselves in the court of law?
Police brutality against high profile athletes of color is not new. NYPD officers broke Thabo Sefalosha’s leg in a police brutality case. Sefalosha settled the case for $4 million. Retired professional tennis player James Blake received similar abuse from the NYPD. He resolved his case creating an agency that investigates police misconduct.
Bennett is the latest, but he won’t be the last. Before August 26, Bennett was pushing the level of collective discomfort. He asked white players to join in protest to escalate the attention and make a difference.
“It would take a white player to really get things changed,” Bennett said. “Because when somebody from the other side understands and they step up and they speak up about it. … it would change the whole conversation. Because when you bring somebody who doesn’t have to be a part of [the] conversation making himself vulnerable in front of it, I think when that happens, things will really take a jump.”
Players responded. Seahawk teammate Justin Britt stood by Bennett during his protest. Philadelphia Eagle Chris Long put his arm around Malcolm Jenkins while Jenkins raised his fist in protest. In Cleveland a dozen protested, including white players Seth DeValve and Britton Colquitt.
— Michael Edick (@Sazqwatch) August 19, 2017
Poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox once said, “To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.”
Bennett knew the consequences when he first knelt and began to speak out about social injustices. There’s no doubt this latest attack will only make him that much more vocal. He has shown no interest in being silent. The goal of equality is too big to ignore or show indifference.
“Let people attack me because they don’t believe what I believe in, but at the end of the day, I’m being vulnerable to show every person that no matter [what] you believe in, keep fighting for it. Keep fighting for equality. Keep fighting for oppressed people. And keep trying to change society.”