“I want to be a voice for the voiceless”:
Pro Football Player Michael Bennett Refuses to Be a Shill for Israel
February 14, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
Michael Bennett, who plays in the NFL (National Football League) for the Seattle Seahawks, announced he will not be joining an NFL delegation to Israel.
Michael Bennett (right) during a game against the Detroit Lions, January 7, in Seattle. (Photo: Ryan Kang via AP)
Bennett has been involved in the struggle by professional athletes to protest police brutality. He took up the protest in the NFL started by San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for the national anthem. (See “Cheers to Colin Kaepernick—For Not Standing for National Anthem,” August 27, 2016 Revolution/revcom.us). Bennett called for white athletes to take a stand against police murders, saying “You need a white guy to join the fight. The white guy is super important to the fight. For people to really see social injustices, there must be someone from the other side of the race who recognizes the problem, because a lot of times if just one race says there’s a problem, nobody is realistic about it.” Bennett has also posted photos and quotes from Black Panther leader Fred Hampton on his Instagram page.
Bennett had originally planned to be on the delegation because he wanted to have interaction with both Palestinian and Israeli people. But he learned from an article in the Times of Israel that the trip would isolate him from the Palestinian people and turn him into a “goodwill ambassador.” Then he read an open letter in The Nation magazine, signed by John Carlos, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Alice Walker, and others calling on the athletes to ”reconsider taking this trip to ensure you are standing on the right side of history.”
Bennett then wrote an open letter that he posted on Instagram and Twitter:
I was scheduled to make a visit to Israel with fellow NFL players. I was excited to see this remarkable and historic part of the world with my own eyes. I was not aware, until reading this article about the trip in the Times of Israel, that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official an “influencer and opinion-former” who would then be “an ambassador of good will.” I will not be used in such a manner. When I do go to Israel—and I do plan to go—it will be to see not only Israel but also the West Bank and Gaza so I can see how the Palestinians who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.
One of my heroes has always been Muhammad Ali. I know that Ali always stood strongly with the Palestinian people, visiting refugee camps, going to rallies, and always willing to be a “voice for the voiceless.” I want to be a “voice for the voiceless” and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.
I know that this will anger some people and inspire others. But please know that I did this not for you, but to be in accord with my own values and my own conscience. Like 1968 Olympian John Carlos always says, “There is no partial commitment to justice. You are either in or your out.” Well, I’m in.
Bennett’s letter was reposted by several other NFL players, including his brother, Martellus Bennett, who has refused to go to the White House with his team, the New England Patriots, that just won the Super Bowl. Kenny Stills, who plays for the Miami Dolphins and was on the delegation to Israel, posted Bennett’s open letter and tweeted out, “Couldn’t have said it any better. I’m in!” In other words, Kenny Stills is also out.
Bennett told The Nation’s Dave Zirin in an interview that “I want my legacy to be what I did in the community. What did people see? Was he a man of his word? Was he the type of man that when he said he did something, he’d go out and do it? That’s the kind of person I want to be remembered as. To me, records are going to be broken, but the legacy you leave, it can’t be broken because it’s the truth, it’s the foundation, it’s me.
“I’ll be done playing football some day, but I’ll be Black forever.”
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