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The Season May Be Over, but Political Division Inside NFL Player Ranks Remains Strong

Just yesterday, this space discussed the decision by six (so far) members of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots to forgo any team victory trip to the White House.


Today, we have still more discussion of the NFL and politics, because, apparently, they’re just meant to be together nowadays.

According to a large number of news sources, including the Daily Mail, three members of a scheduled 12-player delegation set to tour Israel have decided to pull out of the trip because of what they view as unfortunate political implications associated with the visit.

Partly organized by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, the trip is to include visits to Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, and the community of Black Hebrew Israelites in Dimona.

Three players, however, have elected to pass on the voyage: Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks, his brother Martellus of the New England Patriots, and Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins.

As detailed in the Daily Mail, there is some speculation that the players opted to stay home after the publication of an open letter by journalist Dave Zirin, he of the notoriously progressive Nation weekly magazine.

“Based on the public dedication to social justice that many of you share, it came as a surprise to us to see that you will be going on a tour of Israel next week sponsored by the Israeli government as part of an effort to get you to ‘become ambassadors of goodwill for Israel,’” Zirin wrote.

“We would ask that you reconsider attending. These trips bringing celebrities to Israel are part of a larger ‘Brand Israel’ campaign to help the Israeli government normalize and whitewash its ongoing denial of Palestinian rights.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has dedicated a lot of resources to this campaign, which is designed explicitly to improve Israel's image abroad to counter worldwide outrage over its massacres and war crimes.”

Michael Bennett was the first of the three players to formally announce his decision to pull out of the trip, and did so in a letter he posted to Twitter, which read, in part:

“I was excited to see this remarkable and historic part of the world with my own eyes. I was not aware, until reading this article about the trip in the Times of Israel, that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will.’

“I will not be used in such a manner. When I do go to Israel - and I do plan to go - it will be to see not only Israel but also the West Bank and Gaza so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”

(Editor’s note: Although the Daily Mail article embedded in this piece points out that two players, Michael Bennett and Kenny Stills, withdrew from the trip, Michael’s brother Martellus has since announced his decision to stay home, as well.)

By Robert G. Yetman, Jr. Editor At Large