Martellus Bennett didn’t protest the national anthem. The Green Bay Packers tight end stood up with the rest of his teammates, and Washington Redskins players, during the second preseason contest at FedEx Field on Saturday.
“Nah, I’m chilling,” Bennett responded when asked about it after the game.
Instead, he just chose a different medium to express his thoughts: art. Yes, there are, in fact, multiple ways to convey a message.
While his brother, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, sat during the national anthem during Friday’s preseason game for the second straight week in solidarity with those fighting for racial equality, Martellus Bennett posted a political cartoon dedicated to him “and all of the other athletes using their platform to promote change.”
Here's my first political cartoon. Dedicated to my brother @mosesbread72 and all of the other athletes using their platform to promote change. As I've been saying it seems as if "you can use the platform provided to promote products but not to promote change to the products of your environment." I've read a lot of the hate mail and comments sent to my brother as well as the ones sent to me. This illustration is how I feel about it all. here's to those willing to risk it all to promote change. #martyland #theimaginationagency #createdbymarty
The cartoon, which took two days to make, displays two black football players with a platform. One is promoting league products, and he’s being told what to say on a big stage with significant interest from the media, while the other (tagged with Michael Bennett’s Instagram account) is promoting Black Lives Matter and equality on a smaller platform, to the confusion of media members and a white football player scratching his head.
“I don’t think anything I put on the cartoon was offensive,” said Bennett, who still received criticism in the comments section. “It was just straight to the point. There was no misinterpretation there at all. It was right there, everything you need to see.”
Bennett, who is the creative director of Awesomeness at The Imagination Agency, thought studying political cartoons during history classes were “pretty awesome.” Cartoons have often been a powerful way to present a message, but it’s also been a level of imagery that has depicted racial stereotypes from as early as the 1930s to as recently as last week by the Illinois Policy Institute.
“I don’t really work with it too often, but I think for that situation, it was perfect to paint the picture that I wanted people to see because sometimes you’ve got to stand back and look at things,” Bennett said. “When you’re so focused on what guys are doing, what they’re saying, how they look, then we don’t see the full image. I thought that was a good way to pull back and kind of frame it side-by-side so that you could see what we saw, or what I saw, from my perspective.
“And my perspective is not always the right one, but that’s my POV from my experiences and what I saw. It might be totally different from what somebody else sees. But for us, and a lot of us, that’s what we see and that’s how it is for us. That’s what the biggest thing for me was.”
The cartoon is the yin to Michael Bennett’s yang, displaying the duality within activism. Michael Bennett is voicing the same message during NFL games that initially started a year ago with Colin Kaepernick, who became one of the most polarizing figures in this country for sitting down during the national anthem to fight racial injustice and police brutality. He remains a free agent during Week 2 of the preseason. Martellus Bennett took it one step further, displaying on a macro level the difficulties NFL athletes face when they attempt to step outside the structure of the NFL and use the platform to promote a social good.
“When you’re fighting the war, there’s many battles,” he said. “My brother is fighting one battle, and I’m on the different end of the spectrum fighting a different battle. But we’re in the same war. It’s just different things that we’re doing right now.”
Martellus Bennett understands not everyone’s contribution will be the same, although protesting the national anthem has received the most recognition as a form of activism among NFL players. He believes it comes down to figuring out how to make a difference with the specific gifts each individual has to bring to the table.
For him, “art is universal.” Bennett said everyone can understand art, and it has the ability to impact people on a broad level, whether that’s through cartoons or through his poem, “Dear Black Boy,” which he wrote after two black men were killed by police in Louisiana and Minnesota within 48 hours of each other last summer.
“Sometimes I like to write to get a point across, and sometimes I like to design,” Bennett said. “Like Langston Hughes is just as important. The words that Martin Luther King spoke were just as important as the things that he did as well because sometimes you retain those things. Like we recite ‘I Have A Dream’ to this day. Words are powerful. Design, there are things that you see that are powerful; whether it’s a political cartoon, whether it’s an animated series, whatever it is, there’s ways to use art to explain and get people to see things differently than they would with words.”
Bennett thought it would be more effective to fight with his creativity and imagination, the same weapons he arms kids with because he wants to teach them how to think with “design in mind so that they can have a better future for us.” Inspired by his daughter, he said he’s motivated to inspire kids to create a better world for her and her generation.
To be the change he wants to see from the next generation, Bennett is expressing his imagination in a distinctive way that includes the national anthem, but also beyond it. He thinks people often focus too much about which athletes are standing, sitting, raising a fist or lending a hand during the national anthem rather than the message they’re getting across.
“I look around the national anthem, and you still got people selling beers and peanuts, people probably in the bathroom taking a [expletive], babies crying and all kinds of [expletive] going on,” Bennett said. “It’s not like everybody is standing there with attention looking at the flag when the national anthem is going on. You got people doing all kinds of [expletive]. People yelling at you, trying to get a picture of you. I think so. I think people do miss the point. But anything you do, when you’ve got a good purpose or whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter. Most people won’t get it. You’ve just got to keep plugging away, keep chugging away and eventually, change will happen. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes effort, and it takes a lot of change. It takes one person to sit down. Rosa Parks sat down. Change happened. So, things just come along and it evolves over time.
“I think guys are going to be doing a lot of different things, a lot of different battles and a lot of different things in the same war. I think, at the end of the day, I think the change will come – not only for the black players, but white players. The entire world wants to see the world become a better place. I think everyone is starting to get more involved and trying to look at it more so like, ‘What can I do to do my part?’ And, ‘How can I help out?’ I think that’s one of the coolest things right now.”
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