Michael Bennett continues to show his multiple, varied sides beyond football.
The Seahawks Pro Bowl defensive end and his wife Pele, parents of three daughters, have teamed with a global movement to provide 100 marginalized girls in three African countries opportunities in programs of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, arts and design (STEAMD).
Flori Liberos, head of communication for the African-led world organization iamtheCODE, sent me a press release Tuesday saying the player’s Bennett Foundation had partnered with her group in this initiative.
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Bennett has for the past year talked during his football press conferences of the need for professional athletes to use their platforms for social activism and change.
“I am truly excited to help these girls in Africa to learn how to code and gain technical skills through iamtheCODE,” Bennett was quoted in the iamtheCODE release. “My wife Pele and I are very proud to support the building of solid tech training pipelines in communities in Africa.”
The iamtheCODE movement teaches the basic, core concepts of programming. It has been recognized by the United Nations’ first High-Level Panel for Women’s Economic Development, for promoting access in the area of STEAMD for women and girls in marginalized communities. iamtheCODE’s goal is to mobilize governments, investors, foundations, societies and the private sector to invest in the future digital leaders. It seeks to have 1 million women and girls enabled by 2030 through technology, digital citizenship and literacy.
Bennett and his wife are in for 100 of those million.
“Michael and I value deeply that the education of girls in marginalized and deprived communities is being taken care of and highlighted by the iamtheCODE initiative,” Pele Bennett said in iamtheCODE’s release. “We are proud to be able to support young girls to ensure they have a quality education in technology and in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as this is truly the future.
“This co-creation with iamtheCODE will build better lives, create opportunities for girls who are often left behind into the field of tech, and will be catalyzed by internships and industry engagement in the future.”
Bennett is as unpredictable as he is sophisticated and multifaceted.
Before he showed up for mandatory minicamp at Seahawks headquarters this month, the previous time he had talked to the media that covers the Seahawks was in mid-January. That was 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.
He remains perhaps the most fascinating athletes I’ve covered in my 20 years of sports writing.
Bennett signed a $31.5 million contract extension in December. This month he talked at minicamp 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.
I asked Bennett at that minicamp why he is one of the few Seahawks veterans who skip voluntary team workouts and practices each offseason.
“I like to be a parent,” said Bennett, whose three daughters are under the age of 9.
“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 live 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.
So is his pledge to provide technology opportunities for women and girls in Africa.
He will tell you that shouldn’t be as atypical in professional sports as it is.