New Patriot Michael Bennett will remain in locker room during anthem

When news broke that Michael Bennett would be signing with the New England Patriots, aside from the obvious football implications — Bennett remains one of the most fearsome defenders in the NFL — there was this: how would one of the game’s most outspoken political activists fit in with the team most closely aligned with fire-tweeting NFL critic President Donald Trump?

The answer, according to Bennett: just fine.

Speaking at Princeton University, Bennett addressed the thorny political question head-on. He indicated that he plans to talk with quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick about their connections to Trump.

"I think it's important not to to run away from those conversations, or not hear their ideas about why they think the way they do," he said. "I think it's an opportunity for growth to have those conversations ... If we don't allow ourselves to have those conversations, we're stunting our growth."

Bennett’s role during protests

The NFL’s protest movement took flight in 2016 as then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality and systemic racism; soon afterward, other players joined him. Kaepernick and the 49ers parted ways after that season, and he hasn’t played a snap of football since. That left Bennett as one of the most prominent players continuing to protest.

22 PHOTOS
Michael Bennett through his career
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Michael Bennett through his career
SEATTLE - 2009: Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks poses for his 2009 NFL headshot at photo day in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by NFL Photos)
TAMPA BAY, FL - CIRCA 2010: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Michael Bennett of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL football team. This image reflects the Tampa Bay Buccaneers active roster of 2010 when this image was taken. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 12: Michael Bennett #71 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heads off the field before the game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on December 12, 2010 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 02: Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks runs for a touchdown after recovering a fumble against the New Orleans Saints in the first quarter during a game at CenturyLink Field on December 2, 2013 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE - DECEMBER 29: Malcolm Smith #53 celebrates returning an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks of the St. Louis Rams with teammates Michael Bennett #72, Byron Maxwell #41 and Bruce Irvin #51 on December 29, 2013 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
27 JAN 2014: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (72) through the lens of a video camera as he addresses the Media during the Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl XLVIII press conference in Jersey City,NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images)
02 February 2014: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (72) during Super Bowl XLVIII between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ The Seahawks defeated the Broncos 43-8. (Photo by Rich Kane/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images)
October 6, 2014: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (72) rallies his teammates before a match between the Washington Redskins and the Seattle Seahawks at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 18: Russell Wilson #3 and Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrate after the 2015 NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
CHANDLER, AZ - JANUARY 29: Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks speaks during a Super Bowl XLIX media availability at the Arizona Grand Hotel on January 29, 2015 in Chandler, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is congratulated by Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks after Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 29: Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks dirong warmups for the game with the San Diego Chargers during preseason at Qualcomm Stadium on August 29, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 22: Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates after a sack of Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 22, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
January 30 2016: Seattle Seahawks Michael Bennett signs autographs after the final Pro Bowl practice at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu, HI. (Photo by Aric Becker/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by Aric Becker/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
HONOLULU, HI - SUNDAY, JANUARY 31: Team Irvin defensive end Michael Bennett #72 Seattle Seahawks puts bunny ears behind Team Rice kick returner Tyler Lockett #16 of the Seattle Seahawks after the conclusion of the second half of the 2016 NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium on January 31, 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii.Team Irvin defeated Team Rice 49-27. (Photo by Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - DECEMBER 11: Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks watches action during the first half of a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 11, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers talks with defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks after the game at CenturyLink Field on September 25, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 10: Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks plays defensive end in the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 10, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 1: Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks sits on the bench during the national anthem before the game against the Indianapolis Colts at CenturyLink Field on October 1, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 29: Members of the Seattle Seahawks sit on the bench during the national anthem, including Frank Clark #55, Jarran Reed #90, Michael Bennett #72 and Cliff Avril #56, before the game against the Houston Texans at CenturyLink Field on October 29, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09: Running back Thomas Rawls #34, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson #91, defensive tackle Nazair Jones #92, defensive end Branden Jackson #67, defensive tackle Jarran Reed #90 and defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks link arms during the national anthem for the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 9, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 28: Defensive End Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks of the NFC Team as he arrives to the NFL Pro Bowl Game at Camping World Stadium on January 28, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
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Early in the 2017 season, Trump fired up his base with a run of scathing condemnations of the NFL in general and Kaepernick in particular. Players faced withering criticism from a certain segment of the fan base, although the criticism was short-lived; ratings rebounded in 2018 from their 2016-17 dip, and Trump has since moved on to other red-meat topics.

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Even so, Bennett remains dedicated to the cause. He’s been one of the loudest voices advocating change and equality, both in interviews and in his 2018 book “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.” He’s donated significant sums to activist campaigns, and he told the Patriots going in that he wouldn’t be changing his actions to fit team culture. Clearly, that wasn’t an issue for New England: "The Patriots have been trying to trade for me for two years,” Bennett said. “Last year they tried to get me, the year before they tried to get me."

Bennett also noted that he would remain in the locker room for the anthem next season. "I explained to them is that my integrity mean everything," Bennett said, per ESPN. "I think they respect that about me, they respect who I am as an individual."

7 PHOTOS
NFL players protesting social injustice during the 2018 season
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NFL players protesting social injustice during the 2018 season
CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 07: Carolina Panthers players try to block the view of Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid (25) taking a knee during the National Anthem in his first game with the team prior to the NFL game between the New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers on October 07, 2018 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte,NC. (Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Oct 7, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers defensive back Eric Reid (25) kneels during the National Anthem prior to the game against the New York Giants at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett (77) sits during the national anthem before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 9: Robert Quinn #94 of the Miami Dolphins raises a fist during the playing of the national anthem prior to the NFL game against the Tennessee Titans on September 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Titans 27-20. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Aug 30, 2018; Glendale, AZ, USA; A stadium security guard stands with her hand over her heart as Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall (54) and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) sit in silent protest during the national anthem prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals during a pre season game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 09: Miami Dolphins Wide Receiver Kenny Stills (10), left, and Miami Dolphins Wide Receiver Albert Wilson (15) take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem prior to the start of the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans game on Sunday, September 9, 2018 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Photo by Michele Sandberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 09: Receivers Kenny Stills #10 and Albert Wilson #15 of the Miami Dolphins kneel during the National Anthem prior to playing against the Tennessee Titans at Hard Rock Stadium on September 9, 2018 in Miami, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the Titans 27-20 after two rain delays in the longest game in NFL history. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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How will Bennett fit in on the Patriots?

Bennett’s presence on any team would rile up the segment of the fan base aligned with the president. But the fact that he’s now on the Patriots, whose two most notable figures have deep connections with a president deeply unpopular with African-Americans, adds a new twist to the political game that runs above and around the on-field game. Even so, Bennett pronounced himself “excited” to join the team.

"From a football perspective there's a respect for Belichick," he said. "I consider him the Yoda of football when it comes to the ins and outs of what's happening around how to prepare for a game."

And here’s a thought — maybe Brady and Belichick understand that whatever Bennett does before a game, he’s fearsome as hell during it. Maybe they’re wise enough to respect Bennett’s beliefs even if they don’t necessarily agree with him, and maybe they understand that criticizing symbolic acts rather than focusing on actual issues is an easy dodge. There’s a reason these guys have been to nine Super Bowls and won six of them, and it’s not because they get caught up in the cheap heat of the moment.

"The Patriots are a team that people love to hate because they always win," Bennett added. "The opportunity to learn from that and be in that environment is good."

Related: See more of Michael and his brother, Martellus: 

16 PHOTOS
Michael and Martellus Bennett through the years
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Michael and Martellus Bennett through the years
HOUSTON - FEBRUARY 5: New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett (88) poses for a selfie with his brother Michael Bennett who plays for the Seattle Seahawks while on the field for pre game warm ups. The Atlanta Falcons play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Texas A&M head coach Dennis Franchione and Martellus Bennett (right) celebrate the 12-7 Aggie win over the Longhorns in Austin, Texas, Friday, November 24, 2006. The Aggies defeated the Longhorns 12-7. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty Images)
SEATTLE - 2009: Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks poses for his 2009 NFL headshot at photo day in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by NFL Photos)
IRVING, TX - 2008: Martellus Bennett of the Dallas Cowboys poses for his 2008 NFL headshot at photo day in Irving, Texas. (Photo by Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 02: Defensive end Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks runs for a touchdown after recovering a fumble against the New Orleans Saints in the first quarter during a game at CenturyLink Field on December 2, 2013 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martellus Bennett of the Chicago Bears stretches for a reception attempt in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, Sunday, September 15, 2013. Bennett collided with a cameraman on the way down and was assisted off the field. The Bears defeated the Vikings, 31-30. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)
JERSEY CITY, NJ - JANUARY 27: Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks addresses the media during Super Bowl XLVIII media availability at the Westin Hotel January 27, 2014 in Jersey City, New Jersey. The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will meet in Super Bowl XLVIII at Metlife Stadium on February 2, 2014. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 20: Martellus Bennett #85 of the New York Giants during play against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on September 20, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Giants won 36-7. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is congratulated by Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks after Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 22: Tight End Martellus Bennett #83 celebrates one of two Touchdowns against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 22, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/New York Jets/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 29: Michael Bennett #72 of the Seattle Seahawks dirong warmups for the game with the San Diego Chargers during preseason at Qualcomm Stadium on August 29, 2015 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 17: Martellus Bennett stands in front of his animated portrait during the Hey AJ Imagination Lounge Pop Up on June 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images for Martellus Bennett- Imagination Agency Pop Up Book Launch)
02 October 2016: New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett (88) celebrates a big first down. The Buffalo Bills defeated the New England Patriots 16-0 in a regular season NFL game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 29: Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett (72) celebrates during the 2017 Pro Bowl on January 29, 2017, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.(Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Martellus Bennett #88 of the New England Patriots celebrates with cheerleaders after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 to win the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 07: Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett of the New England Patriots celebrate during the Super Bowl victory parade on February 7, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime in Super Bowl 51. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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