GREEN BAY – Martellus Bennett did not kneel through the national anthem, but the Green Bay Packers tight end joined brother Michael Bennett’s protest against racial inequality and police brutality, raising his right fist while "The Star Spangled Banner" was played before Sunday’s season opener at Lambeau Field.
As he did throughout the preseason, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett knelt on his left knee through the national anthem. Beside him, Seahawks linebacker D.J. Alexander stood and put his hand on Bennett’s shoulder. Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark also sat on the team bench during the national anthem.
Martellus Bennett stood across his brother on the opposite sideline, lifting his right fist in the air. He had previously chosen not to protest through the national anthem, though he did post his first political cartoon during the preseason to support his brother’s protest.
“Just a sign of unity,” Martellus Bennett said. “I am socially aware. I understand what’s going on, and I don’t turn a blind eye to it. I am part of the conversation, and then it was my brother. I’m with my brother every single day. So it’s not only a sign of unity for him, but a sign of unity for the entire community.”
In his first game with the Packers, Martellus Bennett showed his value to quarterback Aaron Rodgers in more ways than one. He caught three passes for 43 yards, a pair of them converting third downs.
He also showed his unity with his new team, shoving Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright after he dove late at Rodgers at the end of a quarterback scramble.
“I thought he took a cheap shot on Aaron out of the corner of my eye,” Martellus Bennett said. “So I was just trying to do my best to protect my quarterback. … I’ll always come to his defense. Any guy on the team, in any situation like that, I’ll always be there to defend them and always have their back.”
It was the sixth time the Bennett brothers have played against each other in the NFL, and likely their most emotional meeting.
Michael Bennett was detained and had a gun pointed at him by a police officer Aug. 26 after attending the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight in Las Vegas. In his own words, the Pro Bowl defensive end believed the only reason was “simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Martellus Bennett, a self-described “a spur-of-the-moment” personality, said he did not plan to protest by raising his fist Sunday. He made the decision in the moment, he explained.
Asked if he’ll continue raising his fist during the national anthem beyond Sunday, Martellus Bennett gave no assurances.
“It just depends how I feel,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to pound a message in, and sometimes it’s good to say one time, and people get it. So I never really know.”
The Packers had no issue with Martellus Bennett's protest. Coach Mike McCarthy said he supports his tight end's right to "stand up in a positive manner" for a cause that's important to him. Rodgers also backed his teammate.
"I support Marty 100 percent in just about anything he does," Rodgers said, "and he backed me up today on that scramble. Marty and I have become fast friends, and I respect him a lot. He is, as you guys know, a very interesting, creative person who has opinions that aren't just based on something he read on Twitter, or a cliche that he's seen in a book.
"It's things that he cares about, he researches, he feels strongly about, and I'll back him in whatever he wants to do."