RENTON For Father’s Day -- for any day, if you are want to become a dad -- I present you this moment with the one and only Michael Bennett.
I asked the Pro Bowl defensive end following a minicamp practice this week -- he was there because it was mandatory and he doesn’t like to give away his money -- why he doesn’t participate in organizational team activities and other Seahawks’ voluntary workouts in the offseason.
His answer was sublime. And, as usual with Bennett, so far beyond the norm for a professional athlete.
“I like to be a parent,” said Bennett, who has a wife, Pele, and three daughters under the age of 9.
Never miss a local story.
“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.”
It was typically atypical Bennett. A man who signed a $31.5 million contract extension in December, who is paid to eat, sleep and drink football at all times in a society that often does the same, a man who is supposed to be in constant pursuit of a Super Bowl, purposefully doing less football in pursuit of being more of a dad and citizen.
Bennett is as unpredictable as he is sophisticated and multifaceted. After all, the last time he talked to the media that covers the Seahawks before Wednesday was in mid-January inside the team’s locker room at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Minutes after Seattle’s playoff loss to the Falcons that day, Bennett screamed at a Seattle television reporter for his line of questioning and berated him for not knowing what true adversity and hardship was. That reporter was a cancer survivor, which Bennett did not know.
That’s not the first time he’s erupted at a reporter in a locker room after a game. He did it to me in Charlotte after the Seahawks’ previous playoff loss, at Carolina in January 2016.
He remains perhaps the most fascinating athletes I’ve covered in my 20 years of sports writing.
Bennett talked Wednesday wearing a black T-shirt and matching cap with the words “I KNOW MY RIGHTS” in white letters.
That’s from Colin Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights Camp,” the unsigned and activist quarterback’s 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.”
Bennett spent much of his offseason touring the country doing speaking engagements on social issues, issues of race and policing and motivating disadvantaged youth and advocating for women’s rights. Wednesday, he invoked Standing Rock, the Sioux tribe in a legal fight with the government over the Dakota Access pipeline through its land.
“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,” Bennett said, while talking about why Kaepernick remains unemployed a month before training camps begin.
“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.”
In the offseason Bennett lives in Hawaii, where he and Pele got married. So, yes, it’s that much easier to stay home and be a dad with a pad there instead of in Renton with his Seahawks teammates going through OTA drills.
But his reasoning for why he only shows up when he aboslutely has to is another reason why Bennett is so unique. And fascinating to cover.