RENTON Michael Bennett has been a national lighting rod. He’s been seen on viral images worldwide country face down on pavement with a gun near his head.
He’s been the plaintiff in a possible civil-right lawsuit against Las Vegas police. He’s been the target of that city’s police union wanting the NFL to punish him. He’s been the beneficiary of the league saying no, it won’t do that. And, depending on the point of view, he’s been admired as a victim and tragic hero or vilified as a liar, one disobedient of law enforcement -- or worse.
And now he goes to play a football game.
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“Yeah,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday, also processing the Pro Bowl defensive end’s week like no other. “Talked to him this morning and Mike was really lit up this morning and was feeling really good, like he had been through some stuff and was coming out the other end of it.
“That was today. It still was very emotional for him and all that, but at least it was great to see him have a real light in his eyes and was excited about getting going and all.”
I asked Carroll before the team flew to Wisconsin for Sunday’s top-shelf season opener at Green Bay if he senses the need to check in with Bennett on game day. Sunday is likely to be emotional, also because of a reunion with his brother, Packers tight end Martellus Bennett.
“No, he is ready to go,” Carroll said. “I’m confident in that.
“He is a veteran football player. He is a very bright guy. I think he has been able to put things in proper perspective as best someone could under these circumstances. He has practiced really well. He has been into it on the days out here, noticeably tuned in and all, so I think those are good indications.
“I might have said that, but I think football is good for him right now and the football game coming up is good for him and he knows how to click in and be ready. I would expect him to play really well just based on the way he performed in practice during the week.”
On Friday, John Burris, the civil-rights attorney Bennett has hired for the Las Vegas situation, issued a statement calling for an independent investigation of the circumstances early on the morning of Aug. 27 that led to the Seahawk being handcuffed and having police draw a gun on him outside a casino.
Burris specifically addressed the Las Vegas Police Protective Association Metro, Inc., the union for that city’s police force, asking the NFL on Thursday to investigate and ultimately punish Bennett “for making false accusations against our police officers.”
Bennett has said an officer detaining him threatened to “blow my (expletive) head off” while pointing a gun near his head. That was after police responded to a report of an active shooter inside a casino.
"Over the last several days, the Las Vegas Metro Police Department and its union have begun a smear campaign aimed at demonizing and besmirching the character of Michael Bennett,” Burris wrote. “This victim shaming is a common tactic used by police when they are caught violating a person’s rights. The LVMPD’s press conference and the union’s letter to the NFL is an old tactic routinely used to try to intimidate police abuse victims and engender resentment against them by providing misinformation to the public. Mr. Bennett has absolutely no reason to concoct a story…
“Now, LVMPD claims they are investigating whether Mr. Bennett was involved in an altercation immediately before the incident. Mr. Bennett unequivocally denies this trumped up, red herring type allegation.”
Burris also criticized Las Vegas police undersheriff Kevin McMahill for stating during a press conference Wednesday -- “without having conducted a complete investigation,” Burris wrote -- “conclusory statements about race having nothing to do with this incident.”
Thursday, NFL Vice President of Communications Brian McCarthy told me and other journalists the league would not be investigating Bennett for allegedly making false claims, as the Las Vegas police union wanted.
“There is no allegation of a violation of the league's personal conduct policy and therefore there is no basis for an NFL investigation," NFL McCarthy wrote me in an e-mail.
Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, like the Seahawks, supported Bennett.
Friday, Carroll said he and the Seahawks appreciate that.
“Yes, I think the way the commissioner has responded is worth note,” Carroll said. “I think he has demonstrated his sensitivity to his players and to this situation in particular. And in a general sense, too, I think his words were strong and clear and I think he made good sense of this.
“Yeah, I was happy he saw it the way he did and took the stand the way he did to support his guys.”