Martellus Bennett Exposes the Rotten Underbelly of NFL Football: 'It’s a Traumatic Experience'

Illustration for article titled Martellus Bennett Exposes the Rotten Underbelly of NFL Football: 'It’s a Traumatic Experience'
Photo: John Lamparski (Getty Images)

Throughout the course of his 10-year NFL career, Martellus Bennett endured more than his fair share of labels. He was deemed a malcontent, immature and an assortment of other descriptors that unfairly detracted from his contributions on the field. But despite whatever coaches or journalists have tried to brand him, one thing they’ll never accuse him of is being soft-spoken. And true to form, the Super Bowl LI champion had some things to get off his chest recently on Twitter.

At issue were the demands of playing professional football and the toll it takes on the players who’ve transformed it into a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

“Honestly, football made me such an angry person, everything bothered me,” he tweeted. “Football is interesting. Psychologically it’s some really dangerous shit. To really play the game of football you have to have some fucked up wiring in your head.

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“It’s chaotic,” he continued. “It takes years and years of brainwashing to go along with a lot of the shit. Lol. It starts at peewee. That’s why you gotta watch who is coaching your kids and what they’re teaching them beyond the game.”

He then reflected on how as a child, he became desensitized to the brutal nature of the sport and how most coaches and players are far different in private than their public personas would imply.

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The Dear Black Boy author also expressed how difficult it is to reintegrate back into society after retiring from the NFL.

“Football really fucks up your mental,” he tweeted. “Integrating back into everyday society after a career continues to be a struggle for a lot of guys. The PTSD. The Identity Crisis. The pain. The constant reminder of who you used to be by fans and trophies and highlights and family as you’re trying to transition into the new you really slows down the process.”

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He continued: “Also starting over. Shedding the ego and starting over after you’ve made it to the top is hard. It’s hard to become a nobody after you were a somebody. Hahahah. [...] The other thing that I’ve talked [to] guys [about] is no longer being a part of the locker room. Understanding that a lot of people weren’t really their friend it was just the proximity that brought the closeness. Really hurts athletes. After all you’ve been thru you would think y’all would be friends forever. You’ve put your body on the line for these dudes. This team. Y’all shower together. Cry together. Been around each other kids. And when you’re no longer on the team that bond can be broken quickly.”

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He wrapped up his thoughts by admitting that his NFL career was a traumatic experience.

“Athletes experience a lot of physical and mental abuse. It’s a traumatic experience. I believe guys must find a way to deal with the physical and mental trauma after they leave the game,” he tweeted. “Athletes mask their pain everyday for years to be tough. Do you know how thick that mask becomes after years and years of wearing it. And what type of inner struggle it creates when it comes to communicating the pains you endure after.”

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Wow.

The amount of sacrifice that goes into being a professional athlete is tremendous, but I would imagine that forfeiture is ten-fold when you’re playing a sport as violent as football. You can read the thread in its entirety here. It’s precisely the type of thing the NFL doesn’t want any of us to hear.

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He also opined on how race factors into the equation.

“African Americans have always been the product,” he tweeted. “From slavery to sports. We must start making more and more products with systems, infrastructures and processes that can be repeated. Talent as the product isn’t sustainable.”

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It’s clear that Bennett is a dude with plenty on his mind and I commend him for shedding light on issues that far too often go ignored.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.

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DISCUSSION

I met a really famous professional ball player with more than one championship ring when I was in my 20's. We weren’t tight but I was in his orbit where I was comfortable talking to him about more than superficial subjects (his sister got him a magazine subscription for his birthday once because she felt like that was the only thing he didn’t have that he would enjoy).

We got a little deeper on the subject of playing his level of professional sports once. He kind of abruptly stopped, looked me in the eye and said, “Man, this is modern day slavery.” This was the late 80's and that was the first time I heard someone who was the very best in their sport say that out loud, in person.

He looked really fucking sad and trapped.

Like I said, we weren’t tight but he seems ok now. He spoke up publicly a few times and it cost him a little bit career-wise, but appeared to allow him to be an advocate later on post-sports. I’m not talking Colin Kaepernick advocate, but he spoke up enough where I think it really helped him.

Definitely pay attention who coaches your kids. I coached youth football about 5 years. Kids won a lot. I personally coached kids that currently play for 5 D1 teams and a bunch of D2 and NAIA schools. We also coached kids that hate football now.

We were not very good coaches.