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Dave Zirin: Stand with NFL Star Michael Bennett, Who Refused to Be Silent About Racial Profiling

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As the National Football League begins its new season, one of its most outspoken players has revealed he was recently detained and assaulted by police in Las Vegas. Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett issued a statement on Twitter Wednesday, writing that an officer threatened to "blow my f****** head off" and that "Las Vegas police officers singled me out and pointed their guns at me for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time." The incident took place outside a boxing match last month in Las Vegas while police were responding to reported gunshots. We speak to Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation magazine. He is working on a book with Michael Bennett about Bennett’s life, "Things That Make White People Uncomfortable."

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As the National Football League begins its new season, one of its most outspoken players has revealed he was recently detained and assaulted by police in Las Vegas. Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett issued a statement on Twitter Wednesday, writing an officer threatened to, quote, "blow my f****** head off" and that, quote, "Las Vegas police officers singled me out and pointed their guns at me for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time," unquote. The incident took place outside a boxing match last month in Las Vegas while police were responding to reported gunshots. Video released by TMZ shows Michael Bennett on the ground being handcuffed. Listen closely.

MICHAEL BENNETT: I wasn’t doing nothing, man. Wait, you asked me a question. I was here with my friends. They told us to get out; everybody ran. Did you ask me a question, sir? OK, man.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Michael Bennett held a news conference to talk about what happened.

MICHAEL BENNETT: Obviously, I hate to be up here through these circumstances that happened, to be up here talking about it. It’s a traumatic experience for me and my family. And it sucks that the country that we live in now, sometimes you get profiled for the color of your skin. And it’s a tough situation for me. ...

There’s a lot of people who experience what I experienced at that point, at that moment, and they’re not here to live to tell their story. I think about Trayvon Martin. I think about Charleena Lyles. I think about Philando Castile, Tamir Rice—so many different people that had the experience that I had, and they’re not here to tell their story. So, that’s what it is. ...

I’m just lucky to be here to be able to speak about it, as, OK, any moment, I could have made the wrong decision on whether—move, it felt like I was resisting or doing something wrong, and you guys would be wearing, the Seahawks would be wearing a patch with number 72 on it. So I’m just lucky to be here right now and to be able to continuously fight for people, fight for the equality of all people, regardless of their color, regardless of their gender, regardless of all that. I’m just going to continuously do what I’ve been doing. It’s a hard journey, and sometimes you feel like you’re alone, but there’s a lot of people who support me. And I just want to keep doing what I do. ...

At this point, it’s like it’s the reality of what I live in every day. I think a lot of people—as a black man, you fear sometime what could happen to you, the possibilities if you’re in the wrong situation at the wrong time. And you hope and you wish that everything that Martin Luther King said, or the people before me—we hope that you’ll be judged on the content of your character, not the color of your skin. But sometimes you get judged on that. And that’s the reality that I live in. And it’s just this—people ask why I sit down, and this is why. This is the things that I go through, what people go through that look like me, or people that’s going through something different.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Seattle Seahawks NFL star Michael Bennett. The Las Vegas police union has accused Bennett of making false accusations against the officers. Bennett has a long record of speaking out against racial and social injustice. He’s joined a protest movement led by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick against racial injustice, sitting on the sidelines during the playing of the national anthem ahead of Seahawks games.

For more, we go to Washington, where we’re joined by Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation magazine, also the host of Edge of Sports. Zirin is working on a book with Michael Bennett about his life, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.

Welcome, Dave, to Democracy Now! So, explain exactly when you understand this happened. I think you talked to Michael Bennett that night. This was at the famous boxing match that took place in Las Vegas?

DAVE ZIRIN: Yes, it was the Saturday before last, the famous Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor match in Las Vegas. And I received phone calls from friends of Michael Bennett and texts from Michael saying what happened immediately. And what happened sounded just incredibly traumatic. And I really want to say something to Democracy Now! listeners. People have to understand that Michael Bennett, as you so beautifully laid out, Amy, he’s one of us. I mean, he has the soul of an activist. He has stood with people from Seattle to Houston to the Gaza Strip to Haiti. He’s given his time. He’s given his money. And what he described to me that night was so frightening. And all I could think to myself, as I’m hearing this story about him having a gun against his head, police officers saying they were going to blow his effing head off, him speaking about like his daughters and whether he would ever be able to hug his wife again or kiss his daughters—

AMY GOODMAN: But can you explain what happened—

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —after the match?

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Why hundreds of people started running?

DAVE ZIRIN: Yes. There were reports inside a casino called Drai’s, right on the Las Vegas Strip, of gunshots. And people started yelling "Gunshots! Gunshots! Guns! Guns!" And there was loud noises. There was a scuffle of some kind. Hundreds of people ran out onto the Strip. Statues were toppled over—just to give you an idea of the chaos. And Michael was one of the people who was running out, trying to find somewhere safe to go, because of gunshots. And what it looks like what happened, what Michael described to me happened, is that police honed in on him as somebody who could possibly be a suspect in what may have happened. And they took him to the ground. They handcuffed him. They put a knee on his back, which is very scary, because if a knee is on your back and you move, that can also look like you’re resisting arrest. And then, as photographs clearly show, a weapon was unholstered by the police and put by his head.

And what’s so disturbing about this police union letter that you referenced, by the Las Vegas police union, is that they say they’re putting out this letter to refute what Michael Bennett said in his own letter about what police did, but they don’t refute any of those facts—the gun against his head, the threat to blow his head off. They don’t refute any of that. Instead, what the police union wrote—and, I mean, this is so disturbing to me—is that, in the first paragraph, they write, "While the NFL may condone Bennett’s disrespect for our American flag and everything it symbolizes, we hope the league will not ignore Bennett’s false accusations against our police officers." So think about what they’re doing here. They’re calling upon the NFL to investigate Michael Bennett for telling the truth about what we see on tape of what happened. And they’re saying, basically, that, well, maybe he deserved it because of his stance about the flag. That is so frightening to think that the police would put forward the statement that one’s personal politics justifies brutality.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Michael Bennett’s brother. They’re both football stars. Martellus Bennett was with the Patriots, now he’s with the Green Bay Packers. This is what he said.

MARTELLUS BENNETT: Today, someone sent me the video. I didn’t even know that there was a video. And I got—I had to walk out of a meeting, because I broke down crying just thinking about like what could have happened.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Dave Zirin, what happens now?

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, there’s some very interesting developments at work. First and foremost, the National Football League and Roger Goodell has already put forward a statement saying that they stand with Michael Bennett in this, and they describe him as one of the people in the league who they really are proud of, because of the community work that he does, which is epic and legion, from Seattle to Houston.

I’ve got to tell you, Amy, one of the reasons why Michael didn’t come forward the week right after this took place is because Michael Bennett is from Houston. So he immediately was getting to work to raise money for victims of the hurricane. I mean, that was why the week layoff before he came forward with this. I mean, that’s just the kind of person that he is.

And so, I think the NFL has already announced that they would not be investigating Michael Bennett for false statements against the Las Vegas police. Michael Bennett’s team is thinking about ways that they can stand with him. And a week from this Sunday—I’ll tell you this right now—which is the home opener for the Seattle Seahawks, there’s going to be a rally that’s held in front of the Seattle Seahawks stadium that’s going to be put on by the Seattle branch of the NAACP, that is about standing with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. That’s why it was originally called, but now it’s turned into a solidarity rally for Michael Bennett to let him know that he will not be alone in this process as he goes forward with a lawsuit, and really to send the message that Las Vegas police may have victimized Michael Bennett, but he is somebody who refuses to be a victim in this case, and they really picked on the wrong big black man outside a melee in Las Vegas.

AMY GOODMAN: In February, I had a chance to interview Michael Bennett on Democracy Now! and asked him about the NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to protest against racial oppression and police brutality by kneeling on one knee during the pre-game national anthem. This is what Michael Bennett said.

MICHAEL BENNETT: And I think, for us, for me personally, it just challenged me to be—to even, you know, join him and try to make it—try to make everything in his message more—make it where people understand and they want to be a part of it, where young kids are speaking about it, too.

For me, the greatest thing about what he did wasn’t that the adults were having a conversation about it; it was that the young people were having a conversation about it. It was the 10-year-old, 9-year-old teams. You know, they’re not even getting paid in the NFL, and they just—they’re fearless. They’re taking a knee. And they don’t even know—they understand why they’re taking a knee, but at the same time, they really don’t understand the magnitude of what they’re doing. And then you take the middle school teams that are taking a knee, and there’s not even a lot of fans in the stadium, but they’re taking that knee. And you see high school people doing it, and you see college people doing it. Then you see guys in the NFL doing it. And it’s like, man, that started a fire. And the greatest thing was that the young kids were aware, starting to be awoke about things that are going on, and more aware. And I thought that was the coolest part about all of it. It was that the young people—the seed that he planted with the young people, it started growing, and it caught—started growing like fire and just started growing like weeds everywhere. And it was special. I think that, you know, he did something really special. And really, it all started with a knee. And that’s the funniest part about it. And I think it was—I think it was a great—and it was a great thing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s NFL star Michael Bennett speaking on Democracy Now! months ago, before he was taken down by police a few weeks ago in Las Vegas. Now, Dave Zirin, here in New York a few weeks ago, a thousand people came out in front of NFL headquarters protesting about Colin Kaepernick, that he hasn’t been able to play since then. Can you talk, very quickly, before we wrap up this segment, about the history of "The Star-Spangled Banner" being played and the players being there and this beginning resistance?

DAVE ZIRIN: Absolutely. Like Michael Bennett says, he says we’re all standing up, and it started with a knee. It started before last season, with Colin Kaepernick. And what Colin did—and I think this is sometimes undervalued—is he took this knee before the anthem for four straight months. Sixteen straight weeks, he did this protest. I remember speaking to John Carlos before the—the man who raised his fist during the ’68 Olympics. And John said, "Wow! I just raised my fist once." Colin Kaepernick did it—for 16 straight weeks, he took a knee. And I think what it did is, as Michael said, is it inspired people, from middle schools to high schools to colleges, cheerleaders, soccer players, hockey players. And what it did was it expanded the discussion in uncomfortable spaces. It forced sports radio to talk about police brutality.

And that’s something that Michael Bennett is doing right now. It would have been so easy for him to be silent after what happened in Las Vegas. But he refused silence because he knows that he has the resources and the platform to be public and perhaps make sure that the next time Las Vegas police think about racially profiling somebody, maybe they’ll think twice, because of Michael Bennett.

AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly, have the teams always been out on the field when "The Star-Spangled Banner" is played? When did this start?

DAVE ZIRIN: No, this is a post—largely a post-9/11 phenomenon. College football players still don’t come out before the national anthem. I mean, that’s what’s so crazy about this, is that everybody says that Michael Bennett and Colin Kaepernick, they shouldn’t be mixing politics and sports, when that’s all the NFL does. I mean, the reality is what the NFL doesn’t want to have mix is politics—I’m sorry, they don’t want resistance politics to mix with sports. When it comes to politics like militarism, they’re all too happy to have that mix with sports.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dave Zirin, I want to thank you for being with us. Colin Kaepernick, his future, just briefly?

DAVE ZIRIN: Colin Kaepernick’s future will be—I don’t know. I mean, it’s going to take an NFL owner being very courageous. But I communicate with Colin Kaepernick, and one thing I can tell you, he just gave another $100,000 earlier this week to an organization that’s fighting for DACA kids and immigrant children in this country. He’s not going to stop organizing. He’s not going to stop being political. The NFL—an NFL team should be proud to have Colin Kaepernick on their roster. If none of them can wake up and see that, he’s not going to stop trying to change the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin, thanks for being with us, sports editor for The Nation magazine, also host of Edge of Sports, working on a book with Michael Bennett about Bennett’s life, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable. To see our extended interview with Michael Bennett from February, you can go to democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "I Will Spite Survive" by Deerhoof, performing here on Democracy Now! in our studios. Their new record, Mountain Moves, is out today. To see their full performance and conversation, go to democracynow.org. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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