The original voice in the NFL’s protest movement is absent from the league this season, but in his absence, numerous players have furthered Colin Kaepernick’s cause of bringing awareness to racial inequality and police brutality. This season, one of the central figures in the movement has been Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett. On the most recent episode of Black on the Air, Bennett sat down with Larry Wilmore to talk about this season’s protests and other issues facing football players and the NFL.
Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
On Athlete Activism and Reception of Protests in the NFL
Michael Bennett: I think those issues started to make people look in the mirror and be like —
Larry Wilmore: Make people uncomfortable, right?
Bennett: They were super uncomfortable with the rhetoric, because … they’d never heard this, and there’s so many younger people that weren’t part of the narrative, and now their story was being told again, and I think that was the thing that was starting to bother people. And I think the sports world … it’s been awhile since the athletes have been in the forefront of the movement. Literally talking to Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] … and all those guys, it was just about timing and bringing people back together and about changing the world, and I think [Kaepernick] started that movement again. It kind of got lost for a little bit because money started to play a big role in the success of people and it started to weigh on people’s morality, and the money started coming so much and so —
Wilmore: Because there’s so much at stake, right?
Bennett: So much at stake. And then it comes a part where you’re part of a community and you feel like because you’re making money that the issues, yeah they’re happening, but look, I’m an outlier. And I think that just because you’re an outlier doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak about the issues that are happening to people of color.
Wilmore: It’s interesting because choosing that form of protest divided people in many different ways than had it just been a protest, which would’ve just divided people on the issue. Because I felt it wasn’t about the anthem itself — I felt people disagreed with this premise. I mentioned this before. I felt if he was kneeling for breast cancer —
Bennett: Oh, he would’ve gotten a standing ovation!
Wilmore: Oh, people would’ve rushed to the field and hugged him and said, “Do you mind if I cut your Afro myself?” I think they disagreed with why he was kneeling, why people were so angry about it, and saw it as an affront to cops and linked that to the anthem, and that’s why they started linking the anthem to the military. I know you’re from a military family, I have military in my family, I always thought the national anthem was for all Americans.
Bennett: It’s all Americans.
On NFL Players Not Being Seen As Human Beings
Bennett: I think football gives people a chance to be aggressive without being aggressive, you what I’m saying? They live through us. We’re their vessels; we’re hitting and all this, and they wanna do this.
Wilmore: Yes, people vicariously can live through you. That’s why when you hear that, pop, people aren’t like, “Ooh,” they’re like, “Yeah!”
Bennett: Yeah, because they also don’t see us as human beings either.
Wilmore: Oh, really? You think that people don’t see you as human beings? ’Cause the helmet …
Bennett: Of course. I think the helmet, I think fantasy football, aids that. I think a lot of things, because if you put people and you say fantasy, automatically you think it’s a dream or you think it’s a made-up world, but because it’s fantasy, people don’t see the value in people when it comes to injuries. The first thing they say is, “Man, my points are gonna go down, I’ll never be able to get 20 points” — guy just broke his neck and he has kids in school, his wife, you know what I’m saying, so it’s like the reality of the world but people don’t really look at it like that. They see it as fantasy. But every single injury, or every single person that loses somebody, it bothers you too.