NFL star Michael Bennett details his wide-ranging fight for justice and equality, reveals the frustration black athletes face to earn universal credibility for their cause, and offers an insight into the unique culture at the Seattle Seahawks that encourages open debate and social activism.
What I have always found most compelling about reading books is the platform it allows the author to share a story or a spread a message. A book is far less noisy than social media where commenters/trolls can easily hijack a discussion; a book is longer-lasting and more substantial than a news article or feature interview as the author is able to make their point in greater detail, while videos can easily be edited in order to bend the context to suit a certain argument.
But a book – there is no confusion, no noise and no way of editing out the parts you don’t like: it’s all laid bare on the page, for better or worse. And given the political and social climate in which we live, the importance of books to share a message or story has never been more prevalent.
Which is why Things That Make White People Uncomfortable had to be a book – not a video series, not a Twitter thread, and not a lengthy feature article in some magazine. Michael Bennett has plenty to say which can only be conveyed within the pages of a book.
From police brutality and domestic violence, to white supremacist marches and racially-motivated killings, nothing is off limits in Uncomfortable – which given the author, cannot come as any great surprise. Even the NFL and NCAA come in for the sort of rough treatment you’d expect from a three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman.
To make it perfectly clear if I hadn’t already: Uncomfortable is not exactly a sports book. Sure, Bennett’s life as a football player and his relationship with fellow players do feature prominently, but within the wider context of Bennett’s role as an activist.
The tone and message is laid out by Bennett in the preface as he explains why he is taking a stand and the fear he has lived with since becoming an outspoken and proactive critic of the system.
He takes us back to his childhood; when he and his brother, fellow NFL star Martellus, were separated from their mother following their parents’ divorce; subsequently growing up in Texas with his father and ‘new mother’, and the environment they created at home that encouraged Michael and Martellus to develop inquisitive minds.
After giving an insight into his background, Bennett then proceeds to tackle a number of issues, kicking things off with the exploitation of college athletes by the NCAA, before turning his focus on the realities of the NFL, particularly in light of Colin Kaepernick’s stance and subsequent “whitelisting” by the league.
Bennett then lends his voice to the racial landscape of America, covering the Black Lives Matter movement and his call for people of all races to banish the use of the N-word. There is a chapter dedicated to food education – a cause Bennett continues to campaign passionately for – and another focused on women’s rights, motivated by his role as a father to three young girls.
There is a fascinating section Bennett dedicates to the “brotherhood” of the Seattle Seahawks and the culture fostered within the team that not only resulted in on-field success, but an environment that encouraged open dialogue and support of each others’ causes. Figures like Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman, Stephen Hauschka, and Justin Britt are central to the Seahawks “brotherhood”, while coach Pete Carroll’s role is vital.
It is this culture and support system that acts as the inspiration for Bennett’s ‘Athletes United’ idea and his eventual involvement in ‘Athletes for Impact’, an ambitious organisation aiming to influence real, long-lasting change.
Uncomfortable tackles the biggest issues facing American society and often lives up to its title, although Bennett adds his unmistakable tone to this book, delivering his message with eloquence, intelligence and humour where appropriate.
Bennett’s unbending determination to create a legacy that is founded not in athletic success, but in the difference he can make to society shines through the pages, making Uncomfortable an important piece of work released at a time when it’s needed most.