LAKE BUENA VISTA — The NFL has had a polarizing few seasons in many ways, notably some feeling athletes should stick to sports and not protest injustice, while others praise the social activism of some players.
One of the most outspoken players in the league, defensive lineman Michael Bennett of the Seahawks, praised Michael Thomas, Kenny Stills and Julius Thomas of the Dolphins, in comments to the Palm Beach Post on Friday at the Pro Bowl.
All three Dolphins have played key roles in community outreaches and have also drawn attention to social issues by kneeling during national anthems before NFL games.
“What they do in football is just a small part of their life,” Bennett said. “But what they do outside the field is what you really want from a man. I think they’re doing a great job of showing a commitment to their community. And a commitment to people. I think the most important thing is not being an NFL player, but being a global citizen and I think those guys are global citizens. They speak up for people who don’t have a voice. And they use their platform to continuously build bridges to different communities. And bring in the organization to places that they’ve never been. And I think all those guys are leaders and the team is lucky to have them.”
Bennett has celebrated a successful play by raising his fist high into the air. Bennett, one of the NFL’s leaders in the area of social justice, explained that “the raised fist represent unity or solidarity with oppressed peoples.”
Bennett has sat during some national anthems, protesting the mistreatment of minorities and the need for police reform. Bennett said he has frequently engaged Michael and Julius Thomas and Stills in highly-productive conversations.
“I’ve had so many memorable conversations with those guys to where they always put the people first,” Bennett said. “They always put the community first. And I think they’re always trying to put those people that don’t have a voice out there. And I think that’s what makes them so special. And I continuously love working with them because of that.”
Miami Dolphins players and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross have created a yearly fund, with the purpose of advocating for and sponsoring social justice programs in South Florida. Stills is traveling the country in his 1972 Volkswagen bus, volunteering his time and meeting people in grassroots organizations.
Bennett said that the NFL is never going to be able to stop the players from expressing their feelings about important issues outside of football.
“I think there has never been a proper place to speak about real issues,” Bennett told The Post. “Because nobody wants to talk about real issues that these guys are talking about. At the same time, it’s our job as human beings to take care of other human beings. That’s the most important thing people can possibly do. And I think they do a good job of that. And I think the NFL can’t stop us from speaking our mind. Or telling our truth. I think we all have a story. And I think our story needs to be told. In our way. And through our eyes. And through our vision. And we’ve got to continuously, don’t lose our voice. And I think people before us fought to have a voice and we have to continue to have that voice.”