It came as a pleasant surprise when I first heard about the NFL delegation to Israel, which is scheduled to arrive later this week. As a huge football fan and Israeli Zionist, I was ecstatic to hear that NFL players would be coming to Israel to tour, meet Israelis and fans, and “become ambassadors of good will for Israel,” as tourism minister Yariv Levin put it.
It was even more surprising to hear that the Bennett brothers – Martellus and Michael – would be part of this delegation. Although both brothers are known as dominant players in the league, it seemed that it was a bit of a stretch to assume that these well know activists who have publically sympathized with the “Black Lives Matter” movement would have no issue visiting the only country that the movement has singled out as an “apartheid state” that commits “genocide” against the Palestinians. However, it would soon prove to be too good to be true, and perhaps a bit of wishful thinking on the part of the Israeli organizers, making many wonder whether this whole delegation was worth the trouble and the bad publicity that certain invitees are bringing Israel.
On Friday night, Michael tweeted “I’m not going to Israel” along with a photo of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. The next day he clarified his stance, saying that he does not wish to be used by the Israeli government as an “ambassador of good will”, although he claimed that he intends to visit Israel in the future, along with the West Bank and Gaza. The news that a few NFL players have cancelled their trip to Israel over human rights concerns has now been reported on CNN, Fox Sports, and ESPN, to name a few.
Michael is a 31 year old two time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl Champion Defensive End for the Seattle Seahawks. In 2015 he made sports headlines for supporting the “Black Lives Matter” movement and responding to teammate and fellow Pro Bowler Richard Sherman’s criticism of the movement. He was considerably less reasonable when explaining his dislike of Lions Quarterback Matthew Stafford, saying that “He’s from Dallas. They killed the President… I hold it against him.” Stafford was not born until nearly 25 years after the assassination. During the 2016 Democratic Party primaries, Michael supported Bernie Sanders.
Martellus was drafted by Dallas in 2008, early on earning a reputation as a lazy and rebellious rookie. He would fail to live up to expectations early in his career, but would make his only Pro Bowl in 2014 as a member of the Chicago Bears. Martellus became a Super Bowl Champion last Sunday as a member of the New England Patriots. He has in the past been suspended for slamming a teammate to the ground during practice, has publicly thrown his QB under the bus and called his teammates in Chicago “a bunch of bitches”. Though controversial in his own right, Martellus has made fewer headlines when supporting “Black Lives Matter.
Although the Bennett brothers are good players, they were not exactly a natural choice to bring on a delegation to Israel. Due to Martellus’s character concerns and their outspokenness and activism on left leaning civil rights issues, it was a surprise that they would agree or even be asked to join this delegation in the first place.
The fact that they’ve pulled out of the delegation is less surprising. What is surprising is the fact that a few of the delegation members – including the Bennetts and Dolphins Wide Receiver Kenny Stills – seemed unaware of the purpose of the trip or who was in charge of their itinerary. This raises a number of questions:
- Who decided on the guest list?
It would appear that whoever was supposed to invite the players did not aim for the top echelon of players, but decided to focus on players who would be more likely to come. While this may have been a solid strategy, this still begs the next question:
- Did they not do their homework on the players?
Had they done their homework, I assume that they would have realized that the Bennetts are not Israel’s most likely allies. While an argument can be made for attempting to form new alliances, it seems that had they been completely honest with the players, this PR disaster would never have taken place.
- What did they tell the players?
Some players seemed unaware that the trip was being sponsored by Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry and America’s Voices in Israel. Once they realized that they were being used as goodwill ambassadors, the Bennetts and Stills were quick to pull out. There seems to have been some kind of breakdown in communication between the organizers and the players. As we do not know whether this information was withheld from the players or the players simply misunderstood the purpose of the trip, we can’t know where the miscommunication originated from.
With the delegation set to arrive tomorrow, football fans in Israel and the trip organizers hope that there are no more cancellations (Broncos Running Back Justin Forsett also pulled out, citing a family issue). If any more players cancel, we will be left wondering whether the delegation was worth all this trouble and the negative PR that is unfolding.