Corrections & clarifications: An earlier version of this story included a photo that was not of Martellus Bennett.
During Black History Month, with the series 28 Black Stories in 28 days, USA TODAY Sports examines the issues, challenges and opportunities Black athletes and sports officials face after the nation’s reckoning on race in 2020.
For decades now, thousands of Black men have dedicated their hearts, bodies and souls to playing in the NFL, and in return, they were paid.
Football created generational wealth for more than a few Black players. It should’ve been more players, and more money, but players from Jim Brown to Patrick Mahomes made enough money to take care of families several generations down the line.
However, playing football can wreck that same heart, body and soul. Creating that generational wealth can come at a huge price. This was the point of a vital, historical and eye-opening series of Twitter posts from former tight end Martellus Bennett.
Bennett played for six different teams from 2008 to 2017. He won a Super Bowl title with New England in 2016. He’s one of the most vocal and respected players in the NFL over the past decade.
His series of tweets are some of the most important you will read about what life is really like in the NFL, and after the playing days are over. Some of the tweets are below, with parts heavily redacted due to numerous obscenities.
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The fact the game takes a toll on players is a well-documented subject. What makes Bennett’s words so important, and in some ways so different, is that what he says addresses so many different aspects of post-NFL life, from the mental impact to the financial and even to the loss of friendships in the locker room as players drift apart.
His thoughts are among the most empathetic and vulnerable you will ever hear from an athlete.
Please read what he says. It will help you understand what it means to be an NFL player.
Yes, players make lots of money. Yep, there’s generational wealth.
And yes, they also pay a huge price.
Honestly football made me such an angry person, everything bothered me…
It’s chaotic. It takes years and years of brainwashing to go along with a lot of (it). Lol. It starts at peewee. That’s why you gotta watch who is coaching your kids and what they’re teaching them beyond the game.
We were groomed from a young age to care a little less about humans. If you’re the back up and the man in front of you go down. You kinda get excited but feel bad at the same time. Hahahah.
Most of these coaches aren’t good men. Most of them are egotistical. They love the spotlight just as much as the players. Lol. And they be dumb too.
Most of your favorite players aren’t good people. Hahaha. Like for real for real.
There are some good dudes tho. Jon Kitna is probably one of the best people I’ve ever met. He’s up there with Tom Hanks.
Integrating back into everyday society after a career continues to be a struggle for a lot of guys. The PTSD. The Identity Crisis. The pain.
The constant reminder of who you used to be by fans and trophies and highlights and family as you’re trying to transition into the new you really slows down the process.
Also starting over. Shedding the ego and starting over after you’ve made it to the top is hard. It’s hard to become a nobody after you were a somebody. Hahahah.
Also guys should also prepare their families for retirement. Life after football. Because everyone is retiring because football is truly family when you’re a player or coach.
The other thing that I’ve talked guys they is no longer being a part of the locker room. Understanding that a lot of people weren’t really their friend it was just the proximity that brought the closeness. Really hurts athletes. After all you’ve been thru you would think y’all
Would be friends forever. You’ve put your body on the line for these dudes. This team. Y’all shower together. Cry together. Been around each other kids. And when you’re no longer on the team that bond can be broken quickly.
Also no longer being “famous” some guys need that stardom well they don’t NEED it but they crave it. How could you not it’s been a drug since childhood. You’ve been a star for forever but how can you shine without the game.
That drives a lot of players into a dark place. Which is fascinating because they wanna shine so badly that they end up in the darkest of places.
Another thing that be happening is most guys don’t know how to make money. Making money is hard. Wants your body break down that money machine is gone. And unfortunately the spare parts in the mind that don’t break are so rusty you get discouraged when trying to use em.
The institutionalization of sports is something that isn’t spoken about enough. Kids get funneled in and when you sign those permission slips you’re signing over their identities. Training camp is brainwashing camp.
The other thing that happens is questioning if it was all worth it. When you struggle lifting up your kid. Or your mind doesn’t work right. You go broke you begin questioning if it was all worth it. And more times than not most would say no when truly being honest.
A lot of people think I be (expletive) on football but that’s not true I just provide a different perspective on the experience.
Athletes experience a lot of physical and mental abuse. It’s a traumatic experience. I believe guys must find a way to deal with the physical and mental trauma after they leave the game.
It’s a tough balancing act during your career because the trauma is the only thing that pushes you to do it. And the moment you start addressing trauma the foundation that everything you believed in begins to crumble. And you can’t perform on a crumbling foundation.
Athletes mask their pain everyday for years to be tough. Do you know how thick that mask becomes after years and years of wearing it. And what type of inner struggle it creates when it comes to communicating the pains you endure after.
But yea random thoughts. I could go on and on about this but you guys get the picture.