Whether it’s by wearing T-shirts, sending tweets, or speaking to the media, star NBA players have been outspoken about issues in society and in their league in recent years. But the NFL hasn’t quite followed suit—though Colin Kaepernick and a group of players gained attention through their protests over the past two seasons, the NFL’s biggest stars generally stay quiet. Why is that? Martellus and Michael Bennett—the latter of whom has a book, Things that Make White People Uncomfortable, coming out April 3—shared their ideas about why that is on The Bill Simmons Podcast. It begins with LeBron James:
Martellus Bennett: The reason the NBA is so driven to do everything that they’re doing is because of LeBron James. LeBron is the best player in the world, he’s the most profitable player in the world, and he speaks on every single thing. He’s the person that drives that car. The NFL is not like that. The best players in the NFL aren’t the ones who are talking about concussions. Take Aaron Rodgers’s situation. I love Aaron Rodgers, he’s a great player, but for a quarterback to come out and say that an organization [hasn’t done anything wrong with] a player that’s been injured before, that is just a lie. Every single team, every single player knows an organization [that] has done a player who is injured bad before. … You’ll never see Peyton Manning speak up for behalf of the black players there or his teammates. You’ll never hear Peyton say, “Yeah, these guys are taking a knee, I think we should really get behind them and support them because their cause that they’re talking about is very important to them and this whole group of people.” No, they’ll just sit back and be like, “All right you know, whatever.”
Michael Bennett: “Buy Papa Johns!”
Martellus: Yeah, “I’m going to go crack open a Budweiser.” Whatever it may be. There’s not enough emphasis, because everybody doesn’t really realize that our problems are everybody’s problems. Right? Because until there’s equality for him, there’s no equality for you.
Bill Simmons: But what would happen if all the players just said, “Fuck it, we’re not doing [it]—there’s no football anymore. If you scheduled the games we won’t be playing.”
Martellus: They ain’t got the balls. … And [the NFL’s stars] are getting paid like $40 million. They don’t understand ... [if] I’m getting paid $40 million I’d be, “Whatever you need me to do, Coach.” You know what I’m saying? … A lot of guys at the top of the NFL are out there for themselves. Right?
Martellus: A lot of guys at the top of the NBA will try to make it better for the other guys to come up and get a little bit more. … There are not too many guys at the top of the NFL that are reaching down to help somebody get up to the top either. It’s just like, “Oh yeah, the weather’s nice up here. They got billy goats down there that’ll eat your ass but there’s no billy goats if you make it to the top!” You know what I’m saying? There’s an elitism almost to a certain extent.
Martellus also shared how the NFL can treat injuries differently for quarterbacks and other players:
Simmons: The schedule and the Thursday night games is crazy. The way they treated concussions, which they’re getting better at now, and yet I’m watching games. [Rob Gronkowski] got hurt in late in the Patriots’ season ... it was the first time I was like, “I hope they don’t bring him back.”
Simmons: My entire life I would’ve been like, “Where’s Gronk? Just give him some smelling salts,” and now it’s like—
Martellus: So you human now.
Simmons: I’m more educated now. I know more about what’s right and wrong about head injuries.
Martellus: Did you see the quarterback for the Texans had a seizure on the field?
Simmons: Yeah and they put him back in!
Martellus: I was hurt this year, so I saw a bunch of shit. He locked up and started shaking on the field. I’m watching, I’m like, “Oh fuck.” … And then two plays later he’s back in the game playing quarterback and then the coach had the nerves to say, “Yeah, I didn’t really see what happened.”
Michael: But it’s your quarterback!
Martellus: Right. … Like when [a non-quarterback] gets hurt at practice they just move the field like it’s, like, cows just herding. They just move like 10 yards up and you get back in with the medical staff. The quarterback gets hurt, everything stops for a minute. … You know when your quarterback is hurt because that’s just the way they treat him, so to say that, “I just didn’t see the quarterback go down or get hurt, I don’t know what happened.” It’s just ridiculous.
This transcription has been edited and condensed. Listen to the full podcast below.