Things That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett
Best for: Anyone interested in a compelling story about how a professional athlete lives his values.
In a nutshell: Former (sniff) Seattle Seahawk and current Philadelphia Eagle team member Michael Bennett shares his prospective on a wide range of topics, including the NCAA, the NFL, racism, and sexism.
Line that sticks with me:
“They also tell us to stick to sports when we speak out on issues. But they don’t seem to have a problem when we’re making commercials, selling their kids sneakers they can’t afford or fast food that will give them colon cancer.”
“But none of this is new, and we shouldn’t pretend it is. Racists may be more confident now because of who is in the White House, but it’s been there all along.”
“I think their real reason for calling me a liar is their whole worldview is built around the idea that racism in policing doesn’t exist. They would rather live in the comfort of that fiction than be forced to confront the uncomfortable truth: that racial profiling is a reality.”
“I realized that I wouldn’t be the person I aspire to be if I called out injustice here at home and just stopped at our border. It doesn’t work that way.”
Why I chose it: I mean, a former Seahawk writing about things like social justice? Sign me up.
I grew up loving professional football. I was a 49ers fan, and got to attend many games growing up. However, I didn’t watch a single game in the 2017-2018 season, because of how the league treated Colin Kaepernick. I wrote about my decision here.
But living in Seattle, it was impossible to avoid news of the Seahawks, and Michael Bennett (until recently) was a major piece of that team. So when I heard he was writing a book — and with Dave Zirin, whose work I’ve reviewed before — I knew I had to pick it up. Saw it at the airport before returning to London this week, and I’ve not been able to put it down.
This book has so many insights, it was hard to limit the number of quotes to share above. Mr. Bennett talks openly about how hard college life is for ‘student-athletes’ (who he says would more accurately be called ‘athlete-students’), how the NCAA and universities don’t give a shit about their players. He talks about life in the NFL, and the fear of CTE and how poorly retired players are treated. He shares how important the brotherhood of the Seahawks locker room has been in his growth as a player and a Black man.
He covers many topics I expected him to, like the racism inherent in calling the NFL team owners ‘owners’ when so many of the employees are Black, or Mr. Bennett’s involvement in the anthem protests. In fact, the preface could stand alone as a wonderful essay on the need to stand up (or, in this case, sit down) for what’s right. But he also talks about things like the importance of access to healthful food, or his thoughts on Palestine, or the importance of forgiveness, which I wasn’t expecting.
I think this is a book anyone with an opinion on the role of college or professional athletes should read. I also think this is a good book for anyone who is looking for inspiration to keep fighting injustice.
Note: Mr. Bennett was charged in late March with assaulting someone working security at the Super Bowl in 2017 (a felony, because the person is over 65). I find it hard to believe that the incident went down as suggested in the indictment; I’m especially suspect because of the way the Houston police chief shared it (Google the press conference if you’re interested). Mr. Bennett’s attorney has said: “He just flat-out didn’t do it. It wasn’t a case of, ‘He didn’t shove her that hard,’ or anything like that. … He never touched her.” That said, I wasn’t there, so if that’s something that might affect your interest in picking up this book, I wanted to put it out there.