There’s a lot more to Michael Bennett than meets the eye.
Yes, he’s a ferocious, 6-foot-4, 274-pound defensive end with a knack for sacking the quarterback and forcing fumbles, but he’s also a political activist, a big-picture thinker, and a pursuer of justice, among many other descriptors.
Bennett is coming to New England from the Philadelphia Eagles, along with a 2020 seventh-round pick, in exchange for a 2020 fifth-round pick. The 33-year-old is widely considered one of the most unpredictable and charismatic players in the league, and he believes that “people need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Here’s what you need to know about the Patriots’ new defensive stopper.
Yes, he’s related to Martellus Bennett.
Those who follow the National Football League religiously are well aware of Michael Bennett’s family ties. For those who don’t follow it quite as closely – and for whom the last name rings a bell – yes, he is related to Martellus.
Martellus, 31, won a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2016-17. He started the 2017-18 season with the Green Bay Packers before coming back to the Patriots to end the year and eventually retiring from football.
Michael spent four years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to start his career. He played for the Seattle Seahawks for five seasons, where he made three consecutive Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl in 2014. The older Bennett finished with nine sacks in 16 games in his lone season with the Eagles last year.
Now, it’s possible Martellus and Michael could play together, as Martellus is reportedly contemplating a comeback to join the Patriots for a third time. After the McCourty brothers, Jason and Devin, suited up for the Patriots a season ago, New England could potentially add a new dynamic duo into the mix.
When Martellus heard the news, he reacted in a similar manner to most other people, using three eye emojis and some lighthearted profanity on Twitter. The brothers played together for three years in college. They’re very close, and the Patriots might need a tight end if Rob Gronkowski retires, so it’s certainly a possibility they could reunite.
— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) March 8, 2019
He paid attention to racial injustice and discrimination in his younger days.
In an in-depth New Yorker article that ran this past December, reporter Louisa Thomas dove into both Michael’s upbringing and his current makeup. As the oldest child of Michael Bennett Sr. and Caronda Bennett, who was just 20 when her fifth child was born, Bennett grew up more quickly than most.
Bennett, Thomas reported, has fond memories of wrestling Martellus, swimming, and picking okra and peppers on a farm that belonged to their grandfather, but life wasn’t always that serene.
When Bennett was 9 or 10, Thomas wrote, he stumbled upon the entry for Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Thomas said he was fascinated by what had transpired and that the experience introduced him to the “revolutionary mind process.”
At age 12, Bennett says he was scarred by news of a black man, James Byrd, being dragged to his death behind a truck about 100 miles from where Bennett grew up.
Though Bennett had many interests and tended to question the bigger picture, he wrote in his memoir, people pushed him toward sports because of his size.
“When you’re big and black, the grown-ups push you to play sports,” he wrote. “They take an interest that is hard to ignore or resist.”
As one of the best athletes in Texas, Bennett earned a chance to play for Texas A&M. There, Thomas reported, he loved the camaraderie and competition, but he loathed the business of college football. He became a father in college, and Texas A&M once suspended him a game for leaving immediately after a game to attend his daughter Peyton’s second birthday party.
On campus, he said, he was objectified to some degree.
“Half god, half property,” he wrote.
He’s had two high-profile incidents involving police.
On Sept, 6, 2017, less than two weeks after what he recounts as a traumatic and horrifying experience, Bennett shared with the world his perspective of what happened in Las Vegas.
He was there to attend the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight on a day off, and, on the way back to his hotel, he recalls that he heard what sounded like gun shots.
Initially, he wrote on Twitter, he started running away from the sound in search of safety. Then, he wrote, police officers “singled him out and pointed their guns at him for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
— Michael Bennett (@mosesbread72) September 6, 2017
His account of the event is as follows: “A police officer ordered me to get on the ground. As I laid on the ground, complying with his commands to not move, he placed his gun near my head and warned me that if I moved he would ‘blow my f***ing head off.’ Terrified and confused by what was taking place, a second Officer came over and forcefully jammed his knee into my back making it difficult for me to breathe. They then cinched the handcuffs on my wrists to tight that my fingers went numb.”
He said their use of force was unbearable and that he felt helpless while facing the threat of being killed. Bennett believed there was a chance he could die for no reason other than the color of his skin.
“My life flashed before my eyes as I thought of my girls,” he wrote. “Would I ever play with them again? Or watch them have kids? Or be able to kiss my wife again and tell her I love her?”
He said he asked the officers what he did and reminded them he had rights, but he insisted that they continued to ignore his pleas and tell him to shut up. Eventually, once they realized who he was, they let him go.
“He was so scared for his life,” Michael, Sr., told Thomas. “Mike had never been through nothing like that before.”
Police, however, said they found “no evidence” that officers used excessive force in detaining Bennett and that they had reasonable suspicion to make the stop.
According to ESPN, police sifted through 861 videos and found 193 that related to the incident. They deemed his account inaccurate and said there was no excessive force.
That wasn’t the only time in the past three years that Bennett has been involved with the law.
In March of 2018, a Texas grand jury indicted him on a felony abuse charge for allegedly injuring an NRG Stadium worker following Super Bowl LI in 2017. He was hoping to celebrate with Martellus after the Patriots beat the Falcons.
A local attorney’s office accused him of injuring a 66-year-old paraplegic woman who was working to control access to the field during the game, according to NFL.com. Prosecutors claimed he pushed his way onto the field and injured her, which resulted in a charge of injury to the elderly.
That charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. An arrest warrant was issued, and later that March, Bennett surrendered to authorities. He made a brief court appearance, where the judge set his bond at $10,000. He later posted bail and was released, and the case has been delayed several times since.
Houston police chief Art Acevedo didn’t hold back in his assessment of Bennett’s actions.
“It’s pretty pathetic that you’d put your hands on a 66-year-old paraplegic and treat them like they don’t exist,” Acevedo said.
Bennett pleaded not guilty in April. The case has not gone to trial, and it doesn’t appear to have an end in sight, according to multiple reports.
He has consistently protested during the national anthem and supported Colin Kaepernick.
Following the lead of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Bennett – who has always been passionate about pursuing justice – decided to sit during the national anthem starting in the 2017 season.
During the first regular-season game this past year, Bennett planned on standing behind two of his teammates in solidarity as they raised their fists in the air. He was surprised, according to Thomas, to see that no one from either team was protesting, so he paced, turned away from the field, and sat down on the bench as the anthem neared its end.
At various points in the past two years, he has waited inside, linked arms with teammates, or sat on the bench while the Star Spangled Banner has played.
Bennett appeared kneeling alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Kaepernick on the Jan. 15, 2018, cover of The New Yorker.
He has said certain elements of the saga reminds him of the Dred Scott case, in that players are considered property instead of people. Bennett points out that such a mindset sends the wrong message to young kids and people around the world.
He uses his clout in the public eye as a platform to spark social change.
“I hope that I can activate everybody to get off their hands and feet and go out into the communities and push helping each other,” Bennett told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche. “Sit down with somebody that’s the opposite sex, sit down with somebody that’s the opposite race, different religion and understand that people are different and go out and join the community and try to change the society, change what you’re a part of. If you don’t like it, keep changing it.”
He wears shoulder pads designed for kickers.
Bennett’s tendency to challenge conventional wisdom extends onto the field as well.
He can lift his shoulder pads with only two fingers, according to a New York Times article. That’s because the ones he wears are meant for kickers.
“Small pads make me a better pass rusher,” he told the Times. “I’ve got complete range of motion and I use my hands more instead of just throwing my shoulder into someone. I engage with an offensive lineman the right way, with outstretched arms.”
Word of his shoulder pad preferences started spreading in 2017, but he said he had worn them for five or six years before that.
He said he’s not overly concerned about injuries that could be caused by the lack of protection. Bennett is used to playing with the smaller pads now, so it’s more or less second nature.
As for why people have taken notice lately, he has a theory.
“I think it’s cause my shoulders look a little bit bigger, I guess,” Bennett said.
He believes he still has some serious game.
Michael Bennett the person has more layers to him than Michael Bennett the player, but the player is often heard from as well. He’s registered at least five sacks in each of the past eight seasons, including a 10-sack campaign in 2015 and a nine-sack showing this past year.
He is still a menace as a pass rusher and could help fill the void if free agent Trey Flowers ends up elsewhere. ESPN’s Mike Reiss believes they could coexist and potentially wreak havoc if Flowers stays in New England.
Bennett had 51 total pressures last season, which tied him for 13th in the NFL. Flowers, meanwhile, led the Patriots with 45. According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Bennett said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has always been fond of his game.
First-year Patriots defensive coordinator Greg Schiano coached Bennett in 2012 in Tampa Bay, so it will be a reunion of sorts for the fearsome defensive end and the new coach. Bennett has bashed Schiano in the past for wanting to “flex his power,” but regardless of who coaches him, Bennett is confident he can continue to make plays on regular basis.
“I still know that I’m one of the best players in the NFL,” Bennett told Good Morning Football.
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story stated Michael Bennett witnessed the murder of James Byrd. Bennett did not see the murder, but rather told the New Yorker the news left a profound impression on him.