The Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett’s has announced that he will no longer join an NFL delegation to Israel. His decision has set off a media frenzy and appears to have inspired at least one other player to walk away from the tour as well.
The move is not surprising, considering Michael Bennett’s commitment to social justice and black empowerment. As he says, “I’ll be done playing football some day, but I’ll be black forever.” He counts people like Muhammad Ali, John Carlos, and Angela Davis among his heroes. He sees himself as someone trying to build upon their history of both athlete activism and informed resistance.
I interviewed Bennett last month in Seattle, and he spoke about the importance of leaving a legacy beyond sports, saying,
I feel like if I die and the only thing that people talk about is the Pro Bowls the Super Bowl championship, I feel that people are discrediting me as a person, because at the end of the day, 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.
When offered a dream opportunity to take a free trip to Israel with an NFL delegation that would include his close friend on the Seahawks Cliff Avril, Bennett planned to attend. Then he saw an article in the Times of Israel that described the real purpose of this visit: to go on a highly organized government-designed trip that would isolate him from the Palestinian people, and turn him into a “goodwill ambassador” to “fight perceptions” of the country. Then he read this open letter in The Nation asking players to boycott the trip, signed by Dr. John Carlos, Angela Davis, Harry Belafonte, and Danny Glover. At the same time, Israel’s parliament voted to approve a bill that retroactively “legalizes” illegal Jewish outposts to be built on privately owned Palestinian land. It is such an egregious land grab that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said, “It will cause Israel to be seen as an apartheid state.”