By Matt Hammond

No, Martellus Bennett isn’t “sticking to sports.”

A deep thinker and colorful speaker, the New England Patriots tight end took to Twitter on Monday to share his thoughts on president Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration from over the weekend.

Later, when asked about it on Opening Night at Minute Maid Park, Bennett said, it was simply a moment of honesty.

“It was just in my heart. I usually just say whatever’s in my heart and in my mind. There’s no particular reason. That’s just the way I was feeling in that moment, and that’s what I wrote.”

In a few days, Bennett and his teammates will take on the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51. Implications are of plenty.

If Tom Brady and Bill Belichick win another championship, their legacies are cemented. Greatest of all time. A clear cut above Joe Montana and Bill Walsh, respectively. Not even debatable. This run, spanning 15 years since 2001, will go down as one of the best ever, too. In any sport.

Even for Bennett, who was something of an underachiever in his time with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Chicago Bears, there will be some degree of vindication. Stepping in for the injured Rob Gronkowski the way he has, for 55 catches, 701 yards and seven touchdowns? Makes his ability, and contribution, tough to argue.

Best of all, he’d do it in his hometown of Houston.

But for Bennett, football is only a part of his identity, and what he seems to consider a responsibility — to use his platform to share ideas, and strive for social progress, where and whenever possible.

“When you have a chance to change the world, you change the world. You know what I’m saying? It’s not like, Oh, here’s my chance to change the world! Ah, I’m gonna pass that up.  If I have a chance to change the world, I’m gonna do everything I can to change the world.”

Why don’t more players speak up?

Bennett rubs his fingers together.

“Other players are worried about their personal brands. I feel like a lot of players, they have chances to really impact the community with things they say. So many people are looking to them for encouragement, for example, for a chance to promote change. But for a lot of guys, it comes down to the dollar. What this brand or what this company may say, or how I’m gonna look if I speak out.”

Sometimes, players aren’t fluent enough on a given topic to give a credible opinion, Bennett said, and so they simply let others carry the conversation. But more often, he says, players are too scared to lose fans and endorsement dollars to speak up.

“It varies, but I think the biggest thing is stepping out on that plank, because they feel like they’re going to get crucified on different matters.”

This isn’t the first time Bennett has pushed for players to be more vocal. In July, shortly after the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Bennett wore a Black Lives Matter tee-shirt at a press conference, and said that black players can’t be the only ones condemning police brutality. He singled out Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. “These guys are white,” he said. “They don’t have to deal with the same things we deal with as black players.” He was even more critical of Carolina Panthers quarterback, and reigning NFL MVP, Cam Newton. “Our great players are sitting back and taking the dollar.”

Does it frustrate you, the lack of participation in the conversation?

“I mean, sometimes it frustrates me. Because everyone has a different contribution. For me, I feel like it’s laughter. So I try to tell as many jokes as possible, and make as many people laugh as possible, or write stories that are funny. I like to create, so my creativity is my gift. So I try to give it back to the world.

“I think when you have a chance to impact the world, you go for it. Don’t matter what anyone says, what anyone thinks about you personally. If you believe in something, and you truly have morals and standards for yourself, and your own ethics code, then I think you go for it.”

Of course, one of the consequences for “going for it” is the inevitable blowback on Twitter and social media. Some fans and media will simply disagree with a player’s politics, or his opinion on a given topic. But others are quick to throw someone — anyone! — in the outrage blender, eager to condemn, hoping to be offended, and looking someone down for the sake of tearing someone down.

Those people don’t bother Bennett.

“There’s trolls everywhere. But if trolls step out in the sunlight, they turn to stone. Gargoyles, the same way.

“It’s easy to say evil things, or to be ignorant about things, when they’re not like you. If something’s not like me, I’m afraid of it, and my natural (reaction) is to degrade it and put it down. That’s a sign of fear.

“I don’t really care what anyone has to say about me. I’m OK with who I am as a person. If some guy’s not, because they don’t know who they are, yet, that’s unfortunate. Because their identities become sports.”

Topics at Bennett’s availability were wide-ranging and, predictably, unpredictable. He touched on everything from being the No. 1 high school football player in the state of Texas in 2005, when he was a senior at Alief Taylor High School; to his NASA snapback hat, that he swears he’s been wearing all season; to Elon Musk, Space X and the future.

“It’ll be interesting to see how things go,” he said about the space program — and, fittingly, so much more.

Matt hosts Saturdays from 1-4 pm on SportsRadio 610. You can, and totally should, follow him on Twitter @MattHammondShow


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