Michael Bennett wore a black T-shirt and matching cap with the words “I KNOW MY RIGHTS” in white letters.
The Seahawks’ vocal, activist, Pro Bowl defensive end also knows why Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed in the NFL. To him, that’s black and white, too.
“There is no logical explanation,” Bennett said Wednesday when I asked if there was one for the former San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl quarterback who kneeled during national anthems before games last season to protest race relations in our country remaining unsigned.
“Obviously, there’s the elephant in the room why Kaepernick isn’t signed. Most people know why. “I’m not afraid to say it: I think race and politics in sports is something people don’t want to hear about, nor want to be a part of.
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“I think if you bring the issue of oppressed people onto a stage where there’s millions of fans watching, there’s dirty little secrets. And I think a lot of people don’t want to hear that. People just want to see people score touchdowns and make big hits. They don’t want to hear about people getting killed by police, or gentrification, or women’s-rights issues. Nobody want to hear about that. About Standing Rock. Nobody wants to hear about that. People just want to hear about athletes playing the sports.
“But in this generation, athletes are supposed to use our platform to make change. What are we supposed to do when we are part of America? Are we supposed to just stay in our homes and not speak up on issues? Nah. I think it’s different. I think we are supposed to go back and continuously bring up the issues and continue to inspire our youth that look up to us. That’s our job as athletes. That’s our job as a human being. I think a human-right issue is everybody’s problem. Every issue dealing with race is everybody’s problem. I think every issue dealing with women’s rights is everybody’s problem.
“So until everybody thinks it’s a problem, it’s going to continue ... to be a problem.”
And, Bennett believes, Kaepernick will remain without a job.
As you may have heard, Bennett is writing a book. He has a publisher.
The book’s title: Things that Make White People Uncomfortable.
Bennett’s Seahawks, of course, brought Kaepernick in on a free-agent visit. They remain the only team known to have any such interest in coming even remotely close to signing him.
Seattle decided instead last month to sign journeyman Austin Davis as the veteran backup QB the team has wanted since the end of last season. Coach Pete Carroll said then the Seahawks chose Davis because Kaepernick is a starting quarterback in this league, and Seattle already has one of those in $87.6 million franchise cornerstone Russell Wilson.
Bennett said he’s OK with that explanation from his coach.
“I think his opinion is a valid opinion. He’s the head coach,” Bennett said following Wednesday second practice of Seattle’s three-day minicamp. “He’s the leader of the organization when it comes to picking players. If he feels that this is not the right situation because we have a starting quarterback, then that’s his choice. I think he’s able to have that choice because he’s shown that he’s of a winning pedigree.”
Then Bennett added this, interestingly: “He wants to make sure he doesn’t have that competition behind his quarterback. I think it’s justifiable.”
But Bennett staunchly defended Wilson, just as teammate Richard Sherman did a few minutes earlier while refuting an ESPN story from last month about the Seahawks having locker-room strife centered about resentment their quarterback gets preferential treatment from the team.
“I like Russell Wilson. I’ve always liked Russell Wilson,” Bennett said.
“I think Russell is a phenomenal human being, not just as an athlete but a leader in the community. The issues that he’s dealing with. The things that he does. How he carries himself. The professional that he is. How he does everything for the organization. How he’s played through injuries. And just him as a man.
“I think Russell Wilson is the perfect quarterback for our team. He’s a perfect leader. I think everybody on our team sees that. I think the media wants to build a story around why Russell gets more attention. I said this this morning: when I was the quarterback in seventh, sixth grade, I used to get more Lunchables than everybody, I got more jelly beans than everybody, because I was the quarterback. That’s just how things go. Quarterbacks are seen and they are the organization.
“If you look at any team in the NFL, if there’s a defensive player that’s the face of your organization, you’re not winning a Super Bowl. That’s a fact. Any team that has a great quarterback and the quarterback is the face of the organization that is a playoff team. You can’t show me any different.
“I think he gets everything he deserves, “ Bennett said of his $87.6 million quarterback, “and I think I get everything I deserve. So it’s good.”
In December, Bennett signed a contract extension with Seattle worth up to $31.5 million, with $17.5 million guaranteed.
“I know the Seahawks were the only team that stepped up and gave him the opportunity to (visit),” Bennett said. “So that says a lot about the organization. I think our organization is built around community. If you look at the way that the Seahawks move, if you look at the way that our team moves, if you look at the people that work in the building and this organization is built around community.
“So I’m not surprised that the Seahawks were the one to look at Kaepernick or gave him the opportunity to even try out.”
About that “I KNOW MY RIGHTS” T-shirt and cap he was wearing: That’s from Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights Camp,” his campaign “for youth fully funded by Colin Kaepernick to raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios,” as the unsigned QB’s website describes.
“Yeah, I’ve been working with Kaepernick on a lot of things,” Bennett said. “Talking to him a lot, working on different projects with him… I haven’t gone to the camp – I just went to work with him and did some things with him on the side...
“But other things I’ve been working with him on and talking to him quite often about different issues around America and just different things working with him.”
These two practices of mandatory minicamp Tuesday and Wednesday have been the first on the field for Bennett since Seattle lost at Atlanta in last season’s playoffs in mid-January.
I asked him why he doesn’t come to the voluntary organized team activities of May into June that almost all Seahawks attended.
“I like to be a parent,” Bennett said. “I’ve got daughters. I’m a coach. I’m a teacher at the school. I do things in the community. I try to balance my football life with my actual reality. So, to find that great balance as a human being. I think it’s important as athletes to find that.
“I think a lot of times athletes have a problem when they retire because they build an identity around sports. Then when the sport is gone you are lost. So along this way you’ve got to transition yourself to be able to life in civilization. So find different things you can be a part of. Find out who you are.
“That’s why I do that I do. I mean, I train harder than anyone in the NFL. So I’m not worried about being in shape or being the best player I can be. What I am worried about is how good of a parent I can be, and how much better a husband I can be.”