I co-wrote a memoir and manifesto with Philadelphia Eagle and outspoken political athlete Michael Bennett called “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.” In the book, Bennett writes about being motivated by everyday injustices; food deserts in Black and Latinx communities, the tired eyes of the young people he visits in juvenile prisons, the fight against police violence, the need to link struggles against racism with movements to uplift women and stand up to gender violence.
I chose to work on this project because in 15 years of sports writing, I had never met an active athlete who was so able to critically examine his own sport and so willing to use his platform to speak for those silenced by violence. He’s a remarkable human being, the sort of person who if you know him, you understand the phrase, “ride or die.”
The book was released today (April 3), and we were set to embark on a multi-city tour together this week. Tickets had been purchased, venues were sold out. Especially exciting was the idea of going to Seattle, a city where Bennett won a Super Bowl ring and made three consecutive Pro Bowls, and is such a mainstay in the local nonprofit and activist worlds through his foundation that he earned the nickname Black Santa.
But all of that has been postponed, Bennett’s fearless voice temporarily muted, because he is fighting outrageous criminal assault charges out of Houston. I am not going to rehash the case. What’s important to me is that Bennett says he is innocent of these charges. That is enough for me. It’s also enough for many other people, both inside and outside the sports world who have signed a letter of support, including 1968 Olympian John Carlos, Angela Davis, Cornel West and Naomi Klein.
Michael is now fighting for his freedom and is in no position to promote his book. What’s heartbreaking for me is that there is a section of the book called “On Fear,” where Bennett says: “As I write this now, I’ll tell you, I’m afraid. I fear not being heard. I fear that people will just see the gesture of sitting during the anthem and not hear my reasons, or they’ll accept the distortions put out by the media. That’s why I’m writing a book, because this isn’t about sound bites or tweets or Instagram quotes. This is about trying to push forward with a movement that can benefit all of us.”
I don’t want Michael’s fear to come to pass. Please read this book so you can understand why this football player inspires so much support and makes so many other people, well, uncomfortable.
As he writes in the book:
It’s not “comfortable” to confront the parts of our history that make us feel shame. It’s not “comfortable” for me to sit for the anthem while people boo. It’s not “comfortable” to lose sponsors or give away endorsements. It’s not “comfortable” to go to parts of the world or parts of this country where suffering is a way of life. But guess what? You have to be uncomfortable to grow. When you grow as a child, it’s so intense that your body is knocking your own teeth out of your mouth so stronger, better teeth can grow in. When your bones are growing when you’re twelve, thirteen years old, it can be so uncomfortable you can’t sleep at night. If we feel uncomfortable, we are doing something right. That discomfort is just a period of transition. Trust me: You will feel blessed, if you can see it through and make it to the other side.
One may believe that it’s not comfortable to stand with Michael Bennett right now. But if you actually know him and what he stands for, it’s not uncomfortable at all. It’s easy. Ride or die.