Former Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett is an athlete who's never been reticent to speak out on social causes.
At a forum titled "Athletes + Activism" in Washington, Bennett said if Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning would join the protests begun by Colin Kaepernick, "the conversation in the NFL would change."
"If Peyton Manning joined the conversation, the conversation in the NFL would change,” Bennett said, per Yahoo's Jason Owens. “If Drew Brees came in and really joined the conversation, it would change. Tom Brady. All these great white heroes that they have running around, throwing the football — if they jump into the conversation, it would be so much bigger.”
Kaepernick, while with the San Francisco 49ers, kneeled during the national anthem to draw attention to racial inequality and police brutality. It led other players following suit, President Trump weighing in against the protests and NFL owners having to address the issue by requiring players who wanted to protest to remain in the locker room during the anthem.
"If they were to take a knee with Colin Kaepernick, that conversation would totally change," Bennett said. "If Tom Brady took a knee, white America would be like, 'Oh my God. What is this that Tom Brady's talking about?'
“They would start doing research and would join in the conversation. It would pique their interest. But since it's a black guy taking a knee, it's like, 'Alright, these guys, here he goes again. It's another one of these guys out here doing this.’”
While with the Patriots, Bennett, who retired in 2017 after 10 years in the NFL, stayed in the locker room during the anthem. With the Green Packers, he protested by raising a black-gloved fist while the anthem was being played. His brother, Michael, a defensive end who came to the Patriots via trade this spring, has said he'll continue to stay in the locker room during the anthem, as he did with the Philadelphia Eagles last season.
Martellus Bennett said another former Patriot, defensive end Chris Long, who joined his teammates in protests during the anthem while with the Philadelphia Eagles, didn't have the impact that white quarterbacks would have.
"Chris Long [joined] the conversation, but he's a defensive end," Bennett told the forum. "I love Chris Long. Chris Long is my boy. Shoutout to Chris. But it's not the position.”
Last summer, when interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Brady said the controversy surrounding the protests prompted "a lot of good healthy conversations ... in our locker room."
"I respect why people are doing what they are doing. And they’re doing it for different reasons, and that’s okay. You know, you can do things for your reason," Brady told Winfrey. "They can do things for their reason, and you have respect for that. But, I thought it was great."
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