Michael Bennett has no plans to stop standing up for the causes he believes in.
The newly acquired New England Patriots defensive end told ESPN that he has a lot of respect for Bill Belichick and is excited to play with Tom Brady. However, he is also looking forward to talking to both men about their support for President Donald Trump.
“I consider [Belichick] the Yoda of football when it comes to the ins and outs of what’s happening around how to prepare for a game,” Bennett said in the article published Tuesday morning.
Noting how the Patriots had previously tried to trade for him, Bennett said he believes his respect for the team is mutual. That includes respect for his long record of political activism and charitable work to help the underprivileged. The 33-year-old Pro Bowl pass rusher has been one of the most vocal supporters of former quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protests of racial inequality during the national anthem. Last year, he co-authored a memoir with The Nation‘s Dave Zirin titled, “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.”
According to ESPN, Bennett has told Patriots executives that he plans to stay in the locker room during the anthem, as he did before most games last season with the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I explained to them that my integrity means everything,” he said. “I think they respect that about me, they respect who I am as an individual.”
Despite his disagreements with Trump on the NFL player protests, Bennett has said in the past that he would like to “sit down with the President and talk about these issues.” His approach is the same with Belichick and Brady.
“I think it’s important not to to run away from those conversations, or not hear their ideas about why they think the way they do,” he said.
Along with Patriots owner Robert Kraft, the Super Bowl-winning coach and quarterback have maintained close friendships with Trump since long before he was elected to the White House, which have been complicated by the Republican president’s divisive rhetoric. In 2017, Trump called for NFL players who knelt during the national anthem to be fired.
Bennett suggested to ESPN that talking to Belichick and Brady about their public support for the president would be a learning opportunity for both sides.
“I think it’s an opportunity for growth to have those conversations,” he said. “If we don’t allow ourselves to have those conversations, we’re stunting our growth.”
Bennett has called on more prominent white players in the NFL to speak up about social issues — specifically name-checking Brady.
“I think the biggest problem in the NFL is that we have to be able to get the biggest people involved in the issues,” he told The Undefeated in 2017. “Every day a white quarterback throws the ball to a black receiver, but when it comes to Black Lives Matter issues, they won’t step up and be like, ‘There is an issue.’ Could you imagine if Tom Brady was to say what happened to Philando Castile was a tragedy?”
While the Patriots quarterback has said he supports his teammates advocating for their causes, he has generally tried to avoid taking a stance on touchy political subjects himself.
Bennett told The Undefeated that the thing that has “hurt” him the most is “white players in the NFL that don’t speak up about social issues that are going on in black America,” especially when they play alongside black teammates “every single day.” During the 2017 interview, he said he would love to work with Brady — and others like Aaron Rodgers, Greg Olsen, and Kaepernick — on helping local communities and advocating for gender and racial equality.
“It’s a different ballgame if I bring Tom Brady,” Bennett said. “The same people that yell for Tom Brady, there’s some minority kids in jail, what he would inspire them to do if he came to the jail? How would he change their lives?”