Nonfiction: I’m a Pro Football Player Now, but I’ll Be Black Forever

Bennett’s worldview and understanding of race has been intensified by experiences like these. Wasting few words and fewer emotions in this memoir (written with Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation), he starts by examining the brutal realities of both collegiate and professional football.


The former Texas A&M Aggie includes poignant descriptions of his undergraduate years, noting that racism was at the center of his college experience. He also explains how post-traumatic stress disorder triggered in high school and college can follow athletes long after the stadium crowds stop roaring. As an Aggie, Mitchell explains, he was “half god, half property,” subject to so many restrictions that he was socked with a one-game suspension for leaving campus to attend his 2-year-old daughter’s birthday party. Bennett still resents going undrafted in 2009, the result, he believes, of his inability to live by the advice given to athletes: “Stick to sports.”

Asking the N.F.L. “to lead on social issues sometimes seems like asking a dog to meow,” he remarks early on. But he’s also found football’s brotherhood invaluable, forming bonds with his former coach Pete Carroll, as well as Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Cliff Avril, Justin Britt, Albert Haynesworth and the late Cortez Kennedy. At the same time, the physical toll football has taken isn’t an inheritance he wishes to pass along. If he were to have a son, Bennett says, he wouldn’t let him take up football. The fear of dying while playing is very real, something Bennett carries onto the field each Sunday — not necessarily because he’s afraid of death but because he’s aware of the crater such a loss would leave in the lives of his three daughters and his wife, Pele, whom he credits with helping form his compassionate worldview.

Activism is important to Bennett. It’s why he’s involved in eliminating food deserts in black communities. It’s why the death of Charleena Lyles, shot by the Seattle police after she called to report an attempted burglary, tied him to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s why he’s uncomfortable merely calling himself a feminist, deciding to act on his beliefs by helping provide science, technology, engineering and math programs to young women of color. It’s why he’s adamant about taking inspiration from the June 1967 meeting of pro athlete social activists that’s come to be known as the Ali Summit. And it’s why Colin Kaepernick, still in exile from the N.F.L., has his lifelong support. The conversation Kaepernick’s actions helped ignite, Bennett believes, was more valuable than any of his own paychecks.

That conversation — illuminating systemic racism — is the most important “thing” that makes white people uncomfortable, as his title has it. An admirer of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali and many others, Bennett is an agent of change. Faced with apathy from white athletes and fans, he urges them to take action. “Don’t feel guilty,” he writes. “Do something to make it better. Help us heal by standing — or sitting — alongside us.”

By the conclusion of his book, Bennett has delved into all the hot-button issues his title suggests. “I’ll be a football player for just a few more years,” he points out, “but I’ll be black forever. When I’m driving with my family down the street in a nice car in a nice neighborhood and the police see us, they don’t see Michael Bennett the college graduate, the husband or the loving father. … They immediately see a black man who could possibly be dangerous.”

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Carolina Panthers Headed Toward Record Sale Price

Jerry Richardson is expected to fetch close to $2.5 billion for the team he founded in 1993, nearly doubling the previous N.F.L. record of $1.4 billion.

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‘Combine Speed Is Overrated:’ Tracking the N.F.L.’s Fastest Players on the Field

The fastest times at the N.F.L. combine do not always translate to top game speed, data from wearable technology shows.

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N.F.L. and Papa John’s Part Ways in Wake of C.E.O. Commentary

John Schnatter has already stepped down as chief executive of the pizza company, but his comments still resonated at the end of a long sponsorship agreement.

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As Golden Knights Soar, Las Vegas Stakes Its Claim as a Sports Town

By most measures, the expansion team’s inaugural N.H.L. season has been a smashing success. Can the Raiders replicate it?

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Roger Goodell Expected to Demand Millions of Dollars From Jerry Jones

The Dallas Cowboys owner had aggressively challenged the commissioner’s new contract and the treatment of the star running back Ezekiel Elliott.

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Ex-Dolphin Jonathan Martin Is Detained After Social Media Post Shuts School

“Out of abundance of caution, and because the safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our top priority, we made the decision to close school today,” the school said in a statement. “We are working closely with law enforcement and will share more information when we are able.”

Martin’s photo also included the hashtag #MiamiDolphins, the team that drafted him out of Stanford in 2012.

In 2013, Martin left the team after seven games because he said that another offensive lineman, Richie Incognito, had repeatedly bullied him and used racist language. Martin left the team abruptly and later said that he was under psychological duress and had considered suicide.

Incognito was suspended for bullying Martin, other teammates and a team employee. Martin played the next season for the San Francisco 49ers, but has not appeared in an N.F.L. game since then.

Incognito sat out the 2014 season, but played the next three years for the Buffalo Bills.

A 144-page report commissioned by the N.F.L. to explore allegations of bullying on the Dolphins found that Incognito and two fellow offensive linemen, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, “engaged in a pattern of harassment” toward Martin; another young offensive lineman; and an assistant trainer, including improper touching and sexual taunting.

In his post on Instagram on Thursday, Martin included the social media handles for Incognito and Pouncey, among others.

Incognito insisted that he never bullied Martin and was in fact his friend and mentor. Many of the more than 1,000 text messages between Incognito and Martin that were released contained lewd descriptions and profane language that could be viewed as part of a friendship.

But privately, Martin was furious. According to the report, the mistreatment began early in the 2012 season, Martin’s rookie year, and the frequency of insults grew after Martin refused to fight back. Incognito, who is white, sometimes made jokes about slavery in the presence of Martin, who is black, the report said.

Correction: February 24, 2018

An earlier version of this article misstated the type of weapon pictured in Jonathan Martin’s Instagram post. It showed a shotgun and shells, not a rifle and bullets.

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Dave Duerson Found to Have the Brain Trauma He Suspected

Although the precise motivations behind Duerson’s suicide remain unknown, he had complained of headaches, blurred vision and a deteriorating memory in the months before his death.  His final note to his family finished with a handwritten request: “Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.’s brain bank.”

The N.F.L. does not run the Boston University research group but did donate $1 million to its financing last year, after the league acknowledged long-term effects of football brain trauma.

C.T.E., a condition previously associated mostly with boxers and manifested in behavior more commonly known as dementia pugilistica, is a degenerative and incurable disease that compromises neural activity and is linked to memory loss, depression and dementia. Although groups at Boston University and elsewhere are pursuing tests for living patients, the condition can currently be detected only after death, by brain autopsy.

“We hope these findings will contribute more to the understanding of C.T.E.,” the N.F.L. said in a statement. “Our Head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee will study today’s findings, and as a league, we will continue to support the work of the scientists at the Boston University Center and elsewhere to address this issue in a forthright and effective way.”

DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the players association, said in a telephone interview that Duerson’s having C.T.E. “makes it abundantly clear what the cost of football is for the men who played and the families.”

He added: “It seems to me that any decision or course of action that doesn’t recognize that as the truth is not only perpetuating a lie, but doing a disservice to what Dave feared and what he wanted to result from the donation of his brain to science.”


Dave Duerson in 1988. Credit NFL Photos, via Associated Press

Duerson’s death rattled players both active and retired, who after years of news media coverage are more aware that the damage done to their brains could be permanent. Pete Kendall, a recently retired offensive lineman, said, “The whole issue of C.T.E. is something that players young and old have no choice but to think about.”

Duerson’s former wife, Alicia, attended the Boston news conference with their four children. Their son Tregg, 25, made a brief statement, saying, “It is our hope that through this research questions that go beyond our interest may be answered — questions that lead to a safer game of football from professionals to Pop Warner.”

He added with regard to his father, “It is my greatest hope that his death will not be in vain and that through this research, his legacy will live on and others won’t have to suffer in the same manner.”

Duerson was an all-American defensive back at Notre Dame before spending most of his 11 N.F.L. seasons with the Bears. He played safety on the famed 46 defense that fueled their Super Bowl championship in the 1985 season, and he won the 1991 Super Bowl with the Giants.

Duerson retired after the 1993 season and became successful in the food-services industry before his businesses collapsed, his marriage failed and he went bankrupt. He began showing symptoms of repetitive brain trauma, including memory loss, poor impulse control and abusive behavior toward loved ones.

Another son, Brock, 22, said that the diagnosis of C.T.E. provided an explanation for his father’s decline and final act.

“I don’t want people to think just because he was in debt and broke he wanted to end it,” he said. “C.T.E. took his life. He changed dramatically, but it was eating at his brain. He didn’t know how to fight it.”

Duerson’s case is unique beyond the circumstances of his suicide. Since 2006, he had served on the six-member panel that considered claims for disability benefits filed by former N.F.L. players. Although individual votes are kept confidential, that board has been sparing in awarding benefits, including those for neurological damage.

Duerson himself told a Senate subcommittee in 2007 that he questioned whether players’ cognitive and emotional struggles were related to football.

However, Duerson’s legacy will almost certainly be how he apparently came to believe he had C.T.E., acted upon it and requested that his brain tissue be examined for confirmation and contribution to science.

Dr. Robert Stern, along with McKee a co-director of the Boston University research group, cautioned that C.T.E. could not explain all of a player’s actions.

“When it comes to suicide and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, it is possible that in some individuals the combination of C.T.E.-related symptoms of poor impulse control, depression and cognitive impairment may indeed lead to suicide,” Stern said. “However, we can never clearly point to any cause-and-effect relationship in any one case.”

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