Martellus Bennett: The introspective, intellectual entertainer

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports   Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports /

Martellus Bennett is an animated man.

Through two weeks of the NFL season, Bennett has been playing without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski in New England. From an outside perspective, any team without Brady and Gronkowski has a much bleaker canvas. But Bennett, a tight end who signed with New England in the offseason after a Pro Bowl 2015, saw the absence of the Patriots’ cornerstones the way he sees everything else in his life: an opportunity to create.

And so, create he has. On Sunday Night Football in Week 1, Bennett only had 14 yards receiving, but if you watched the game, you saw Bennett blocking with reckless abandon. He did his part, and he did it exceptionally. He is a flamboyant entertainer who knows when to turn off the spotlight and dedicate to the minuscule details that also play a part in painting a pretty picture.

Flash forward one week, and Bennett was a headliner. On Sunday, Bennett caught one touchdown and 114 total yards in a win over Miami. After the game, he told, “For me that’s all it’s really about. Just going out and doing the things I love to do – and have fun doing it.

“I haven’t had this much fun in a long time in the NFL,” he continued, “and I think it’s making a big difference for me. When it’s fun, it’s much easier to go out there and play.”

Bennett, 29, is a professional in fun as much as he is in football. He has drawn on his body, as he is covered in tattoos, just like he draws on a sketchpad. Leading up to his ninth season, Bennett transformed from a Bear to a Patriot and brought a little girl named A.J. to life through his first children’s book entitled Hey AJ, It’s Saturday.

The book was released on Father’s Day, and a series of Hey A.J. children’s books will ensue. A.J., the main character and protagonist, is a black child modeled after and inspired by Bennett’s two-year-old daughter Austyn Jett. (He has said repeatedly that he wanted to create a character his daughter and other black children could relate to. To this end, he recently penned an articulate and moving piece for The Players’ Tribune titled “Dear Black Boy.”)

There are at least two more books scheduled to be released from Bennett’s arsenal and creative agency, The Imagination Lounge. Each book will have an accompanying app.

In a colorful interview on ESPN’s His & Hers on June 19, Bennett spoke passionately about his first children’s book and aspirations creatively moving forward: “I wanted other kids to meet A.J. on Saturday to see what her Saturdays are like because I think you find a lot out about a kid based on their Saturdays. Do they sleep in late? Do they get up early and go out and play? What kind of kid are you?”

These pointed questions Bennett is asking of kids is why he is one of the most important players the NFL has to offer. He is unabashedly multidimensional. He has often referred to himself as a unicorn. His Twitter handle is @MartysarausRex. He does not tell children that making it to the NFL is everything they should want out of life.

There’s one more increasingly more interesting layer to Bennett’s NFL presence: his ability to pick and choose when to insert his vivacious personality. Already, in only two weeks of games this season, we have seen the NFL’s intention to eliminate personality on the field.

On Sunday, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters was flagged for taunting after simply wagging his finger. Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver was flagged on Monday Night Football in Week 1 for twerking after scoring a touchdown. This league is built for entertainment. These players have wide-ranging personalities. But the ability to showcase those personalities on an NFL field is growing more and more cookie-cutter.

Not a problem for Bennett, though, because he has built a creative empire outside of his day job. He doesn’t need to dance or do anything extra on Sundays because he is creating every other day of the week. This is a message for every athlete, either already a professional, in college or in Pop Warner, that there is a place for every characteristic living inside of you to shine its brightest. Sometimes those characteristics have to be compartmentalized, but they never have to die.

Through his actions, through his passion projects, Bennett is asking everyone a series of questions: What kind of person are you? Are you happy with your answer? If not, how are you going to bring who you dream to be to life?

What will you contribute to our world? And once you accomplish one of your goals, are you just going to stop? You shouldn’t.

Bennett proves that there is a route, multiple routes, for all of us. And if you can’t find one, make one.

Also in that His & Hers interview, Bennett expressed that his pen name is “just Marty. I’m trying to be like Prince and just go by Marty.”

Prince could go by one name because his art spoke for itself, and he mastered how to take the platform you’ve been given and influence as many people as possible by being 100 percent him.

The same can be, should be and will be said about the artist soon to be known as Marty.