Former Green Bay Packers player Martellus Bennett is continuing his protests even in retirement, by insisting that white quarterbacks join Colin Kaepernick’s protest movement.
NFL players, overwhelmingly, stopped protesting during the national anthem in 2018, the same year Bennett retired from the game. But the former tight end has not put his own activism behind him despite his retirement or the fact that the league has finally moved on from anthem protests.
Bennett appeared at an event in Washington D.C. sponsored by former ESPN host and outspoken activist Jemele Hill, where Bennett called on the NFL’s white quarterbacks to join the protest, Yahoo Sports reported.
The former Patriot, whose protest was to raise a fist during the anthem, slammed white quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady for “not joining the conversation.”
“If Peyton Manning joined the conversation, the conversation in the NFL would change,” Bennett said. “If Drew Brees came in and really joined the conversation, it would change. Tom Brady. All these great white heroes that they have running around, throwing the football — if they jump into the conversation, it would be so much bigger.”
Bennett added that ignorant white fans might have taken time to learn about the “issues” if white players had joined the protests.
“If they were to take a knee with Colin Kaepernick, that conversation would totally change,” Bennett exclaimed. “If Tom Brady took a knee, white America would be like, ‘Oh my God. What is this that Tom Brady’s talking about?’
“They would start doing research and would join in the conversation,” Bennett explained. “It would pique their interest. But since it’s a black guy taking a knee, it’s like, ‘Alright, these guys, here he goes again. It’s another one of these guys out here doing this.'”
Bennett did note that white player Chris Long protested with Kaepernick. But he dismissed Long’s efforts because Long is not the kind of leader a quarterback is.
“Chris Long [joined] the conversation, but he’s a defensive end,” Bennett said. “I love Chris Long. Chris Long is my boy. Shoutout to Chris. But it’s not the position.”
Bennett would have also done well to remember the experience of a white quarterback that he played with in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers. In 2017, Aaron Rodgers asked Packers fans to join arms together during the national anthem. The result? Almost no one in the crowd joined arms and it was an intensely embarrassing showing for Rodgers.
The example of the Rodgers incident coupled with Bennett’s belief that all it takes is a “white hero,” to get white Americans to take an interest in the anthem protest movement, reveals a fundamental difference and lack of understanding. Bennett, is clearly looking at the anthem protest movement through the lens of race. However, most NFL fans are looking at the issue as being one of patriotism.
This is not a subtle distinction.
A large majority of fans, not just white fans, but any fans, will refuse to follow someone who disrespects the flag. Regardless if it’s a “white hero,” or a black hero. Future protesters would do well to learn that lesson.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.