[Marxism] I’m a Pro Football Player Now, but I’ll Be Black Forever

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 20 10:07:30 MDT 2018

NY Times, Sunday Book Review, May 20, 2018
I’m a Pro Football Player Now, but I’ll Be Black Forever
By Justin Tinsley

By Michael Bennett and Dave Zirin
220 pp. Haymarket Books. $24.95.

Part of the mythology of sports, according to Michael Bennett, the Super 
Bowl champion defensive end, is that sports make society more equal. 
“That’s miseducation,” he writes in “Things That Make White People 
Uncomfortable.” “The only thing that’s going to make us equal isn’t 
sports. It’s going to be people realizing we’re all human.”

One of the raging debates of our times centers on social justice — and, 
in particular, the political views of athletes in the age of President 
Trump. Near its epicenter is Bennett, now a Philadelphia Eagle, who as a 
Seattle Seahawk sat during the national anthem last season to protest 
systemic inequalities. He is now fighting assault charges after being 
accused, unjustly he argues, of injuring an elderly woman while rushing 
through the crowd after last year’s Super Bowl to congratulate his twin 
brother, Martellus, on the Patriots’ win.

Bennett’s worldview and understanding of race has been intensified by 
experiences like these. Wasting few words and fewer emotions in this 
memoir (written with Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation), he starts 
by examining the brutal realities of both collegiate and professional 

The former Texas A&M Aggie includes poignant descriptions of his 
undergraduate years, noting that racism was at the center of his college 
experience. He also explains how post-traumatic stress disorder 
triggered in high school and college can follow athletes long after the 
stadium crowds stop roaring. As an Aggie, Bennett explains, he was “half 
god, half property,” subject to so many restrictions that he was socked 
with a one-game suspension for leaving campus to attend his 2-year-old 
daughter’s birthday party. Bennett still resents going undrafted in 
2009, the result, he believes, of his inability to live by the advice 
given to athletes: “Stick to sports.”

Asking the N.F.L. “to lead on social issues sometimes seems like asking 
a dog to meow,” he remarks early on. But he’s also found football’s 
brotherhood invaluable, forming bonds with his former coach Pete 
Carroll, as well as Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Cliff Avril, Justin 
Britt, Albert Haynesworth and the late Cortez Kennedy. At the same time, 
the physical toll football has taken isn’t an inheritance he wishes to 
pass along. If he were to have a son, Bennett says, he wouldn’t let him 
take up football. The fear of dying while playing is very real, 
something Bennett carries onto the field each Sunday — not necessarily 
because he’s afraid of death but because he’s aware of the crater such a 
loss would leave in the lives of his three daughters and his wife, Pele, 
whom he credits with helping form his compassionate worldview.

Activism is important to Bennett. It’s why he’s involved in eliminating 
food deserts in black communities. It’s why the death of Charleena 
Lyles, shot by the Seattle police after she called to report an 
attempted burglary, tied him to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s 
why he’s uncomfortable merely calling himself a feminist, deciding to 
act on his beliefs by helping provide science, technology, engineering 
and math programs to young women of color. It’s why he’s adamant about 
taking inspiration from the June 1967 meeting of pro athlete social 
activists that’s come to be known as the Ali Summit. And it’s why Colin 
Kaepernick, still in exile from the N.F.L., has his lifelong support. 
The conversation Kaepernick’s actions helped ignite, Bennett believes, 
was more valuable than any of his own paychecks.

That conversation — illuminating systemic racism — is the most important 
“thing” that makes white people uncomfortable, as his title has it. An 
admirer of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali and many others, 
Bennett is an agent of change. Faced with apathy from white athletes and 
fans, he urges them to take action. “Don’t feel guilty,” he writes. “Do 
something to make it better. Help us heal by standing — or sitting — 
alongside us.”

By the conclusion of his book, Bennett has delved into all the 
hot-button issues his title suggests. “I’ll be a football player for 
just a few more years,” he points out, “but I’ll be black forever. When 
I’m driving with my family down the street in a nice car in a nice 
neighborhood and the police see us, they don’t see Michael Bennett the 
college graduate, the husband or the loving father. … They immediately 
see a black man who could possibly be dangerous.”

This book is the necessary prelude to the serious work of Bennett’s 
life, which will take place once he’s done with football. “If you don’t 
ask why, you’ll never be attacked or criticized. No one is going to go 
after you or your family,” he declares. “But if you don’t ask why, 
nothing, not a damn thing, is ever going to change.”

Justin Tinsley is a sports and culture reporter with ESPN’s “The 

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