Bennett incident shows why athletes should never ‘stick to sports’

Michael Bennett spoke with the media about his incident being profiled by Las Vegas Police and how the issue has affected him. (Courtesy: KOMO)

On Wednesday, Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett accused Las Vegas police of pointing guns at him and using excessive force during an incident after the McGregor-Mayweather fight.

He took to Twitter to explain how he felt being the victim of alleged police brutality.

Bennett received an outpouring of support on social media, but some also accused him of dramatizing events. The “stick to sports” crowd was also out in full force, doubling down on the assertion Bennett shouldn’t be protesting police during the national anthem before his games, something he’s done since 2016.

Then TMZ released video of a portion of the interaction.

A spokesperson for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has denied that race played a part in the incident, but added that they’re investigating. The department also released a five-minute version of the video that seems to corroborate Bennett’s story.

Bennett’s supporters will say this incident underscores why he has chosen to use his platform to be vocal about the deaths of Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Philando Castile and others at the hands of police.

Count me among them because I can relate. I’ve written a fair bit on athletes such as Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and Bennett standing up for social causes.

Each time I’ve seen pushback in my Twitter mentions saying I’m too liberal or playing the race card or showing bias.

Truth is I am somewhat biased. As a university student in London, Ont., I was pulled over by police upwards of 20 times over my four years of schooling. Other than having the odd light bulb out or expired licence-plate sticker, most times I was released without an explanation of why I was stopped. I was never arrested.

A few years after graduation I was startled one night by police banging on my door. I opened it up to find two officers with guns drawn berating me and making fun of me. This went on for a while until one officer realized my bewilderment wasn’t an act. They had gotten the wrong address. Instead of asking for ID, they had asked to see my hands in the air. They assumed I was the man they were looking for as I “fit the profile.”

These are details I haven’t shared with many people, even family and friends. I include them now not for pity, but because as a young black male I can say that these experiences are sadly the reality — not the anomaly. And unless you’ve been in those terrified shoes, it’s hard to comprehend how it feels.

But understanding that — or at least trying to — makes it a lot easier to see why millionaire athletes would use your source of entertainment as a vehicle for change.

Nobody has an issue when J.J. Watt raises $27 million for Hurricane Harvey victims or when Tracy McGrady opens up his own Houston home to families who are now without one. When the cruel injustice of a natural catastrophe leaves a segment of society weak and vulnerable, everybody is fine with athletes not being just athletes. They are encouraged to use their speaker box for good. Because that struggling storm victim could be any one of us.

But when the cruel injustice of systemic racism leaves part of the population weak and vulnerable, athletes are supposed to turn the other cheek?

You can’t pick and choose when you want athletes to stick to sports and when you want them to do what they think is right. What’s more, in cases like Bennett’s, the athletes are simply sticking up for themselves.

Being rich and famous doesn’t excuse you from being profiled. Recent examples of athletes like James Blake and Thabo Sefolosha wrongly being hurt by police officers show no minority is immune.

This is not to shame law enforcement over a few bad apples. We’re all biased. We all make judgements on sight. As a recent University of Toronto study showed, we judge and feel threatened by people differently based on our perception of their race.

It’s human nature — just like our fight-or-flight response is — but it’s also something we should be cognizant of.

That’s what Bennett and other NFL players have been trying to address with their anthem stance — to make those who aren’t impacted aware that there is a problem at hand. But that has been overshadowed due to outrage about the method of protest.

Luckily, Bennett was able to walk away from this incident. But don’t expect him to stay quiet or back down from his protest. And if you understood the fear he felt in police custody knowing he was innocent, you wouldn’t expect him to.

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