Former Seahawk Michael Bennett in 2017.
Former Seahawk Michael Bennett in 2017. Joe Robbins/Getty Images

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Last week I reviewed Michael Bennett’s new book, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable, in the print pages of this fine publication. In the intervening time between my filing the review and it getting published (print still takes some time, folks), Bennett was charged with a felony for allegedly assaulting an elderly woman at Super Bowl LI in Houston 16 months ago. Some people on Twitter have said some mean things to me about this omission, and while they assumed malice where there was none, they’re right that it should be mentioned. Bennett’s arrest is relevant to how his book should be received. But not for the reasons they think. So rather than let the omission stand, I think it's worth contextualizing Bennett’s arrest in terms of what he wrote.

First though, let’s take a look at the arrest itself. The crime Bennett is charged with, which is defined in Section 22.04 of Texas’ penal code, is injury to a Child, Elderly Individual or Disabled Individual. Based on the specifications within the law—which include details about the definition of elderly caregivers and elderly care facilities—it reads like a criminal statute written to ensure that caretakers, such as teachers, parents or nurses, that intentionally injure those in their care get a sterner penalty than a normal assault charge.

Bennett clearly was not the alleged victim’s caregiver in this case. The crime as alleged is that Bennett, who attempted to enter the field area from the wrong entrance, pushed his way past an elderly member of the stadium security detail, and sprained her shoulder in the process. I’m not a personal injury lawyer in Texas, but to my eye, charging Michael Bennett with this specific felony because what he did seems an obvious perversion of the intent of this law.

Of course, as was mentioned in my review, Michael Bennett is no longer just a person; he has morphed into a politicized avatar for the right. Ever since he was taken into custody by police for… well, being near a stanchion falling over in Las Vegas, and his subsequent echoing of Colin Kaepernick’s protests of police brutality, Bennett has become a pantomime villain to some, as likely to be mentioned in the same breath as George Soros as his pass rushing peers like Aaron Donald.

Which further complicates this indictment. The charges were made public in a press conference led by current Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. Acevedo used his pulpit to refer to Bennett as “morally corrupt.” He also revealed that the timing of the investigation into Bennett’s alleged crimes synced up with the aftermath of his run-in with the Las Vegas Police, rather than when the crime occurred. If that makes it seem like these charges might be politically motivated, then you might not be shocked to find out that Acevedo is a regular guest on InfoWars dating back to his previous job as Chief of Police in Austin.

I do not want to overstate Acevedo’s conservative leanings. He was often brought on to InfoWars as a voice of dissent, as he has publicly stated he believes in restricting gun ownership for those with criminal histories or cognitive impairments. In the wild world of InfoWars, that qualifies as a clarion call of sanity. Which is to say that the man who is charging Bennett is not quite Alex Jones level, even if he has been a regular guest on his show.

But there is a clear sense that Acevedo is making an example of Bennett. These charges were filed well after the Super Bowl, and the investigation happened to begin mere days after Bennett’s run in with the Las Vegas police made national headlines. Acevedo said of Bennett, “I think it’s pretty pathetic that you’d put your hands on a 66-year-old paraplegic and treat them like they don’t exist.” Even if everything Acevedo is saying is true (and this is a charge that Bennett unequivocally denies), being pathetic does not make you a felonious nursing home worker. Again, they found a criminal statute that technically matched the action Bennett is accused of taking, rather than directly enforcing the crime itself.

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This all comes back to Bennett’s book, in his chapter discussing his relationship with the activist community generally, and more specifically supporting the work of Black Lives Matters. In reference to what happened to Kaepernick in the wake of his protests, Bennett wrote, “[NFL executives] are scared of Black men who overcome the fear to stand up. So many people can’t handle that. That’s why the lives of powerful Black men and women have been destroyed or simply snatched. Who would want to step up given those risks? But still we do.”

Bennett became an activist clear-eyed to the risks it presented to him as a black man with a large audience in America. He talks about Fred Hampton, Kaepernick and Muhammed Ali, not out of self-aggrandizement, but to show that he gets what happens when you are a black man giving voice to dangerous ideas. Kaepernick was blackballed. Ali went to jail. Hampton was killed. Bennett is now facing highly questionable charges that could derail his life.

So yeah, I think that the charge against Bennett is relevant to how we receive his book. I think it is now more important than ever to read what he wrote, to wade past the politicization of the athlete by those on the right, and see the systems with which he has had to engage (the NCAA, the NFL, various police agencies) through his words.

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