The ever-expanding social conscience of defensive end Michael Bennett was on view Wednesday at Seattle Seahawks practice.
Two themes emerged – he provided shelter from the storm for two put-upon players from the position he likes least (quarterback), and he promoted the notion that he can put football second to the players he likes most (his three daughters).
There was also that social-justice thing, which will get boost from a book he’s co-writing: “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.”
The man is never dull.
First, to the football stuff.
“I like Russell Wilson. I’ve always liked Russell Wilson,” said Bennett to a media scrum at the team’s VMAC headquarters. “He’s the perfect quarterback for our team. He’s a perfect leader. I think everybody on our team sees that.”
While the bromance may seem like something less than breaking news, a May 24 story on ESPN.com suggested the Seahawks were riven with jealousy over Wilson’s supposed favored-son treatment when it came to coaches telling the truth in public and private about responsibility for mistakes.
Bennett made the point that as far as he’s known, the QB position may as well change its name to Favored Son, from pee-wee ball to the pros.
“When I was the quarterback in seventh, sixth grade, I used to get more Lunchables than everybody, I got more jelly beans than everybody, because I was the quarterback,” he said. “That’s just how things go. Quarterbacks are the organization.
“If you look at any team in the NFL, if there’s a defensive player that’s the face of your organization, you’re not winning a Super Bowl. That’s a fact … The quarterback is the face of the organization that is a playoff team. You can’t show me any different. I think he gets everything he deserves, and I think I get everything I deserve.”
It’s fact of NFL life that because one position has an outsized impact on the careers of the other 52 guys in uniform, everything he does or doesn’t do gets magnified, in the locker room and in media, times 10. It’s a fact of Patriots life that Tom Brady is a jerk more often than not, but his results more than outweigh his lack of huddle etiquette.
“I think Russell is a phenomenal human being,” Bennett said, “not just as an athlete but a leader in the community, the issues that he’s dealing with, the things that he does, how he carries himself, the professional that he is, how he does everything for the organization, how he’s played through injuries, and just him as a man.”
Bennett also thinks a lot of another quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers QB the Seahawks invited in for a free-agent visit. The Seahawks wanted an experienced vet to compete with the unproven Trevone Boykin as backup to Wilson. But Carroll reported that Kaepernick still views himself as a starter, and instead the Seahawks signed Austin Davis, who is not a starter, except three years ago with the Rams when he beat the Seahawks.
In terms of quarterback endorsements, Bennett is one for two.
But his endorsement was more about defending Kaepernick’s outspoken pursuit of social justice, which last year included sitting or kneeling during national anthems. He inspired a national controversy that subsequently made Kaepernick radioactive in the free-agent market. Because clubs fear trouble, Bennett said numerous times this offseason Kaepernick has been blackballed.
“Obviously, there’s the elephant in the room why Kaepernick isn’t signed,” he said. “I’m not afraid to say it: I think race and politics in sports is something people don’t want to hear about, nor want to be a part of.
“I think if you bring the issue of oppressed people onto a stage where there’s millions of fans watching, there’s dirty little secrets. A lot of people don’t want to hear that. People just want to see people score touchdowns and make big hits. They don’t want to hear about people getting killed by police, or gentrification, or women’s-rights issues. People just want to hear about athletes playing the sports.
“But in this generation, athletes are supposed to use our platform to make change. What are we supposed to do when we are part of America? Are we supposed to just stay in our homes and not speak up on issues? Nah. I think it’s different. I think we are supposed to go back and continuously bring up the issues and continue to inspire our youth that look up to us. That’s our job as athletes. That’s our job as human beings. I think a human-rights issue is everybody’s problem.
“So until everybody thinks it’s a problem, it’s going to continue … to be a problem.”
Bennett declined to criticize Carroll for his backup QB choice.
“I think his opinion is a valid opinion. He’s the head coach,” he said. “If he feels that this is not the right situation because we have a starting quarterback, then that’s his choice. I think he’s able to have that choice because he’s shown that he’s of a winning pedigree.
“He wants to make sure he doesn’t have that competition behind his quarterback. I think it’s justifiable … I know the Seahawks were the only team that stepped up and gave him the opportunity (to visit). So that says a lot about the organization.”
Regarding his absence for a third consecutive season of the organized team activities portion of the off-eason, a voluntary exercise, Bennett, on the eve of Father’s Day weekend, said he had better things to do.
“I like to be a parent,” he said. “I’ve got daughters. I’m a coach. I’m a teacher at the school. I do things in the community. I try to balance my football life with my actual reality.
“I think it’s important as athletes to find that. I think a lot of times athletes have a problem when they retire because they build an identity around sports. Then when the sport is gone you are lost. So along this way you’ve got to transition yourself. Find different things you can be a part of. Find out who you are.
“I train harder than anyone in the NFL. So I’m not worried about being in shape or being the best player I can be. What I am worried about is how good of a parent I can be, and how much better a husband I can be.”
For as proficient a football defender as he is, Bennett’s defense of his teammates, friends and family is a thing to behold.
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