If the NFL wants to spark the change Colin Kaepernick rallied for by taking a knee during the national anthem, one former player believes the cause needs support from not only great players, but great white quarterbacks.
Speaking at an “Athletes + Activism” forum hosted by The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill in Washington on Thursday, former Pro Bowl tight end Martellus Bennett said the support of former teammate Chris Long on the racial inequality front was appreciated, but that defensive end isn’t the position that would bring proper attention to the issues. For Bennett, it has to be a quarterback.
“If Peyton Manning joined the conversation, the conversation in the NFL would change,” Bennett said. “If Drew Brees came in and really joined the conversation, it would change. Tom Brady. All these great white heroes that they have running around, throwing the football — if they jump into the conversation, it would be so much bigger.”
Bennett continued: “If you look at NFL advertisements it’s always quarterbacks. If they were to take a knee with Colin Kaepernick, that conversation would totally change. If Tom Brady took a knee, white America would be like, ‘Oh my God. What is this Tom Brady’s talking about?’
“They would start doing research and would join in the conversation. It would pique their interest. But since it’s a black guy taking a knee, it’s like, ‘Alright, these guys, here he goes again. It’s another one of these guys out here doing this.’”
Kaepernick first sparked controversy when he sat during the national anthem before the 49ers’ preseason game against the Packers in 2016. Asked about it afterward, the quarterback says he did so to protest police brutality and the oppression of people of color in the U.S.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media at the time. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick continued to kneel during the anthem. He opted out of his contract with the 49ers after the 2017 season and has yet to sign another NFL contract despite expressing a desire to play. He eventually filed a grievance against the league in October 2017 alleging collusion among the 32 team owners.
The NFL settled its grievance with Kaepernick and current Panthers safety Eric Reid in March 2019 for less than $10 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.