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Are you a millionaire athlete in a scrape with the police? Caught in a place where you shouldn’t be Running from the law when ordered to stay still?
Then dial 1-800-CRY-RACISM. You’ll experience a soft landing from a forgiving media.
That was the strategy of Seattle Seahawks star Michael Bennett recently in Las Vegas. Bennett was part of a large crowd in a casino around 1:45 a.m. after the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor bout when a call came to police about a possible shooter in the building.
According to Bennett, police arrived and singled him out for an aggressive takedown. Bennett said he was forced to lie on his stomach while being cuffed by cops. As I laid on the ground, complying with his demands to not move, he placed his gun near my head and warned me that if I moved he would blow my (expletive) head off.
Terrified and confused by what was taking place, a second officer came over and forcefully jammed his knee into my back, making it difficult for me to breathe. They then clinched the handcuffs on my wrist so tight that my fingers went numb.
“The officers’ excessive use of force was unbearable. I felt helpless as I lay there on the ground handcuffed facing the real life threat of being killed.
Bennett then dropped his race bomb. All I could think of is, I’m going to die for no other reason than I am black and somehow my skin colour is somehow a threat. Bennett went on to talk about fearing he would never see his wife and kids again because of racism.
His statement was accepted uncritically by media members, who didn’t wait for further details. The story led sportscasts, was picked up on social media and made it into evening newscasts. To a constituency eager for lurid stories of police encounters with blacks, this was heaven sent: an articulate, innocent black National Football League star targeted for his skin colour by racist cops.
The NFL, which is over 70 per cent black players, was quick to take up Bennett’s allegation. Commissioner Roger Goodell supported Bennett, calling him the kind of athlete the league is built upon. The NFL Players Association likewise had his back. The Seahawks organization lionized their player.
But as quickly as Bennett’s allegations were given credence, the narrative began to fall apart. Video and photos emerged showing that when police entered the casino, which was filled with black people, they found Bennett crouching behind a slot machine. Approached, Bennett bolted, running out of the casino, leaping a low wall and heading to Las Vegas Boulevard, where he was subdued by cops.
Video showed no guns pointed at his head (although police do draw their guns when investigating a shooting call). One of the cops subduing him did have a taser in one hand. Audio shows no example of the threats on his life Bennett claimed had been made. The eternity he was held was about 10 minutes.
Further, the racist cops were Latino, not white. And even if they were racists, why would they tackle one of the biggest black men in the crowd?
In his zeal to play the Black Lives Matter martyr, Bennett forgot that video now captures almost all police activities. (The arresting officer’s body cam was not turned on but there are dozens of other videos available.)
Or did he understand that crying racism would do the trick?
By now, sports media in the U.S. and Canada were caught, having committed to Bennett’s tale of racism and police brutality. They should have known to get a police version before going off the deep end.
Bennett is a well known social activist. He’s a glib, entertaining athlete, popular with sports media. So they gave him a pass to make a point even though Bennett was clearly offering an alternate version of the facts from Las Vegas.
Having seen hopes of prize-winning stories about racist cops dashed, media shifted focus. In a segment before the Sept. 7 New England-Kansas City NFL game, NBC reporter Mike Florio never mentioned the bogus racist charge. It was now about whether Bennett had been threatened or treated roughly. NBC’s Bob Costas, who never misses a chance to lecture America about its failings, was oddly silent about Bennett’s incendiary racial allegation.
The Sunday Morning ESPN NFL program was all about Bennett’s trauma as his proxies made him out to be a hero defying racism. Not a word about the Vegas cops’ version of events. Fox TV, meanwhile, continues to give Bennett a digital platform to perpetuate his vision of victimization.
Change the subject, distort the lens. Getting both sides used to be the essence of responsible journalism. But in the partisan atmosphere of current reporting, newsrooms are more like policy think-tanks, churning out opinion when fact is their job.
Bennett will get off untouched by the media establishment. But repeated attempts to demonize cops and whites don’t go down as easily with the NFL’s base. While the progressive media offer a crying towel to fellow traveller Bennett, the beer-and-a-shot crowd will ask some other questions.
- Why did you not stay in place as did so many others in the casino?
- Do you think falsely crying racism about Latino cops is a responsible thing for an NFL star to do?
- Why did you wait four days to make your complaint? Were you put up to it by others?
- What’s a self-advertised family man doing in a Vegas casino at almost 2 a.m.?
Take your time to prepare your answers. The average NFL fan will want to hear you take responsibility for your reckless actions.
Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.
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