While the NFL’s divisive national anthem protests died down last season, Martellus Bennett wants to see them come back big-time this fall — with high-profile white players leading the way.
The former Pro Bowl tight end and Super Bowl champion appeared Thursday at the Athletes + Activism forum in Washington on a panel led by Jemele Hill, a columnist for The Atlantic and former ESPN host.
During the event, Bennett advocated for more of the national anthem protests started by then-San Franciso 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, according to Fox News.
“If Peyton Manning joined the conversation, the conversation in the NFL would change,” he 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. …
“If they were to take a knee with Colin Kaepernick, that conversation would totally change. If Tom Brady took a knee, white America would be like, ‘Oh my God. What is this that Tom Brady’s talking about?'”
Even though he is calling for others to kneel, Bennett didn’t do that when he was a tight end with the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. His brother, defensive end Michael Bennett, took a knee, but Martellus raised his fist in protest during the national anthem.
Although Bennett might want white players to join the anthem protests, kneeling has been bad for the NFL’s brand and turned many fans away over the past few seasons.
During the 2016 and 2017 NFL seasons — when national anthem protests peaked — the league’s television ratings dropped by more than 17 percentage points, according to LifeZette. The top reason for fans tuning out, according to a JD Power Poll, was the anthem protests.
There certainly are no laws restricting NFL players or anyone else from kneeling to protest political matters. Free speech still exists in this country.
However, not every constitutional right can be used in the workplace. For example, certain places of work do not allow people to carry firearms, and most forbid employees from enjoying their 21st Amendment right to drink alcohol.
Not to mention, there are words protected by the First Amendment that, if said in the workplace, would result in an employee being fired.
The playing of the national anthem before an NFL game — a time when Americans traditionally set aside their differences and come together — isn’t the time or place to stage a protest if the goal is to win people to your side.
Bennett earned nearly $34 million playing football, according to Spotrac. He is a private citizen now. If he wants to engage in political activism, that is his choice.
However, active players are paid to play football — not to engage in political demonstrations on the field.
There are other ways they can help the community, including by doing charity work. Taking an action that alienates fans does not seem to be the best way to go about it.
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