Michael Bennett, one of the most outspoken players during the protest saga of a few seasons back, no longer protests during the national anthem as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. But in his first substantive comments since joining the Cowboys, he indicated that he remains involved in social causes, and his decision to halt his protests was meant as a gesture of goodwill toward his new teammates.
Bennett joined the Cowboys several weeks ago in a trade with the New England Patriots. In the two games since, he’s joined his teammates on the field during the national anthem at their request. In 2017, while a member of the Seahawks, he remained seated during the anthem. He stayed in the locker room while with the Eagles last season and with the Patriots earlier this year.
The protests, which date back to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, were meant as a way to bring attention to police brutality and systemic racism. Bennett told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill that standing during the anthem doesn’t change his attitude toward promoting social justice.
“This doesn’t take away what I have done ... and the stances that I took, the death threats I have had on my life. I have done it all,” he said. “I don’t think it makes me less of a person or makes them less of people. At the end of the day, people get caught into certain things and don’t get caught up into what people are doing to change society. We all are men. We are all trying to figure it out. None of us are finished products when it comes to society.”
Bennett authored a 2018 book, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable,” and he’s been involved in outreach and educational efforts over the last few years as rage over the protests has cooled. He dismissed reports that he was no longer protesting due to an agreement with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of the protests’ most outspoken critics.
The protests made national news in 2016 and 2017 when candidate and, later, President Trump attacked Kaepernick and other demonstrators. As Trump moved on to other targets, most of the protestors have resumed standing, but there are dozens of individual and league-wide social justice efforts now underway that wouldn’t have existed without the protests.
“When you get in the position on a platform where you get a chance to give back and create opportunities for others, that’s where I want my legacy to be,” Bennett told Yahoo Sports during the protests. “Over the last four or five years, my story has been shared more than in the past. I want to create opportunities for others. I want to raise the bar about what we can do as athletes and people. I think that’s where I want my legacy to be, and that’s where it has been cultivated.”
Often perceived, misconstrued or deliberately mischaracterized as unpatriotic, the protests were among the most divisive moments in recent sports history. Kaepernick consulted with a veteran for the most effective method of silent, nonviolent, pregame protest, but that didn’t save him and fellow protesters from withering, relentless criticism. Many players ultimately decided that the controversy surrounding the protest was obscuring the entire point of the protests themselves, and resumed standing.
Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job in the NFL, and likely won’t ever again despite possessing — at least at the time he became a free agent in 2017 — skills that were very much the equal of many of the NFL’s quarterbacks.
Bennett’s decision leaves the Panthers’ Eric Reid as one of the few, if not only, players still actively protesting during the anthem. “We’ve got to keep fighting,” Reid said in July. “Got to keep agitating. Got to keep making sure that we put pressure on the people who make the laws, and the decisions, in this country.”
Bennett echoed those sentiments this week. “I am a black man,” he told the Star-Telegram. “I have always said that. I have always stood on what I have believed in every single situation whether it’s with Donald Trump, whether it was with the police, whether it was with police brutality, how women of color have been treated, how much money I have donated to different things, the causes I have stood up with, the people I have stood with. It doesn’t make me less of a person.”
As part of the trade with New England, Dallas and Bennett sliced off the last year of Bennett’s contract. Bennett doesn’t know what he’ll do at the end of the season, but retirement is a possibility.
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