One day before the Las Vegas police detained Seahawks DE Michael Bennett after the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, I spoke with Seattle NAACP branch president Gerald Hankerson by phone for this piece. In the interview, I asked Hankerson the same two questions I asked five other branch presidents: does you branch have a relationship with the local NFL team, and will you or your branch protest or boycott NFL games this season?
He told me the Seattle branch does not have a relationship with the Seahawks, but that he worked closely with Bennett and Seahawks DE Cliff Avril over the years. And unlike some other branch presidents, he was not planning to boycott NFL games this season. His reasoning was simple.
“In fact we feel we’ll boycott in a different way by showing up to support Mike Bennett during his games when he chooses not to stand [for the national anthem],” Hankerson said. “To stand in support of him, to not let what happened to Colin [Kaepernick] happen to him. … That’s the way we can really send a message when we kneel down rather than recognizing a flag that doesn’t recognize us as a people.”
Last season, Kaepernick sat, and then knelt, during the national anthem before 49ers’ games to protest the systemic unjust treatment against black and brown people by law enforcement. Bennett—rich as he is, successful as he is, well-known as he is—became (or continued to be?) one of the people whom Kaepernick supported through his protests a day after I spoke with Hankerson.
I have some questions about the situation involving Bennett on Aug. 26. But not one of these questions will be asking or demanding for proof from Bennett, because it’s damn difficult to pull out your phone and take a video when a gun is pointed at your head.
How can one maintain politeness and manners in such a situation?
TMZ (of course) has video of Bennett’s detainment, and the Seattle defender comes into focus on the video when an officer is putting handcuffs on him. Fear present in his voice, Bennet tries to explain that he has nothing to do with this. But while he’s being accosted he still has the wherewithal to call the officer “sir,” which shrunk and deflated me as a viewer. Bennett participated in Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp in June, so while he know his rights are being violated in this instant, he still feels the urgent pressure to submit to his oppressor and call him sir.
Can you imagine looking for safety and instead being accosted by those who swore to protect you?
One moment, Bennett had been running for safety after word that shots were fired had spread. The next moment, according to Bennett’s account, he had guns pointed at him, including one pointed at his head. The TMZ video shows at least one gun being pointed at Bennett, who’s already submitting to the officer’s orders.
“They told us to get out and everybody ran,” Bennett, on video, tells the officer handcuffing him.
When will the myth of the big, scary black man end?
In his statement, Bennett talks about being singled out, and I can only assume it was because of both his race and his size. A 6' 4", 271-pound black man can, in a racist mind, conjure up ideas of the ugly stereotype of the black brute that dates back centuries. We saw it in George Zimmerman’s defense, when he said that the unarmed teenager had outmuscled him and he had no choice. We saw it again in Darren Wilson’s defense of his shooting of Michael Brown: he said “when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan” despite the officer being 6' 4" and 210 pounds. Tamir Rice wasn’t even a teenager yet when Cleveland police gunned his 12-year-old black body down, in part, because he was considered to be “over 18 years old and about 185 pounds.” But the 39-year-old son of our president is still considered to be a “good boy” and “good kid.”
What would have happened had they not realized this man was a multi-million-dollar athlete?
Bennett says he was released when they realized he was a professional football player—and ostensibly a man of means. But what if this same scenario plays out and he’s Michael Bennett, the common black man? What if he’s Michael Bennett, man with a criminal past but staying out of trouble? Is he released in the spot where he was detained? Does he remain cramped in the back of the police car for what will seem like two eternities? How much more would Michael Bennett have been inconvenienced if he didn’t have a stats page on NFL.com?
Why does Bennett write “when you are seen as a ‘nigger,’ you’ll be treated that way?”
This is a point that many black people have been trying to make for years but with seemingly little luck. LeBron James attempted to make a similar point during the NBA Finals and got laughed at by a FOX Sports personality. Not that long ago, blacks were considered subhuman. If you had one drop of black blood in you, that also made you black and subhuman. We advanced to being worth three-fifths of a human. Then we were good enough to go to school with white folks and play sports with them. Now we all eat at the same restaurants and drink from the same water fountains and play in the same public pools, but we can’t get the same housing loans afforded to others at the same bank. It’s the exact reason I shudder when someone thinks they’re being clever by pointing out that “Colin Kaepernick is actually just as much white as he is black.”
What’s a reasonable outcome to all this?
Bennett has hired a civil rights attorney and plans to file a civil rights lawsuit. I’m not a legal expert so I won’t say much there other than when a grand jury won’t send the killer of Tamir Rice to trial and when an actual jury can’t come together on a verdict regarding Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott three times in the back on video, I remain pessimistic that there will be anything greater than a wrist-slap here. What I do hope comes from this in the NFL world is more people speaking up for these injustices. And I don’t mean the Martellus Bennetts or the Kaepernicks. I mean this league’s influential white players who team with these men who not only fight for these rights but live these injustices in their own world, too. That’s when change can really be affected.