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Disrespect to Civil Rights Leaders





12:31 PM CDT on Thursday, July 16, 2009  
Column by JEAN-JACQUES TAYLOR / The Dallas Morning News | jjtaylor@dallasnews.com

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Martellus Bennett doesn’t care what you think.

Not one bit.

He doesn’t care what the Cowboys think either, so don’t feel bad. Actually, he doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

It’s obvious.

At one level that’s not a bad thing. You have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything, as the saying goes. And you certainly can’t go through life trying to please other folks because you’ll never be able to do it.

But Bennett should have more respect for the sacrifices that tens of thousands of African-Americans have made so that he can do and say whatever foolish things he wants on MartyB TV.

Not just the sacrifices by people we hear about all of the time, such as Rosa Parks, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and James Chaney, but the anonymous folks who held sit-ins and organized marches and protests so that my kids can splash around freely at Cedar Hill’s Uptown Village on a muggy Sunday afternoon with a kaleidoscope of races.

Clearly, Bennett lacks this respect.

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You know what’s sad? Marty B isn’t a bad person. He’s a likable guy with charisma who could be doing something considerably more creative than videotaping what he called a “Black Olympics” – a fried chicken-eating, watermelon-eating and Kool-Aid-drinking contest with his brother – and putting it on YouTube for the world to see.

He’s just young and dumb.

Don’t get it twisted, because I’m not talking about Bennett’s intelligence. He’s a smart guy who does dumb things. This isn’t the first one. Trust me, it won’t be the last.

Cowboys PR director Rich Dalrymple must walk into his office each morning wondering if Bennett has left some mess he’ll be forced to spend a chunk of the day answering questions about.

The Cowboys already fined Bennett once for releasing a profanity-filled rap video on YouTube, but the fine was later reduced.

But when you’re young and rich it’s easy to give folks the finger. When your superior athleticism has caused you to be coddled much of your life, it’s easy to make light of stereotypes.

Now, some of you will ask what’s the big deal with the video because you found it amusing. Or harmless.

You’ll talk about how Barack Obama being the first African-American president is an indication of how far our country has come, which is true but we have so much further to go.

You’ll say Bennett was just having a little fun. You’ll say I just need to get over it.


I’m sensitive to the issue because my parents grew up in Nashville, Tenn., during the height of the civil rights movement. I heard stories about water fountains marked “white” and “colored.” I heard stories about movie theaters with segregated sections.

To me, the civil rights movement is real ­ not something that happened 100 years ago, seen today only on black-and-white images inside a dusty picture frame on a fireplace mantle. To me, the civil rights movement is more than a PBS special or an HBO documentary.

To me, it’s about real people.

Perhaps Bennett doesn’t realize the civil rights movement was just a generation ago for many of us. Two generations at the most.

Maybe he doesn’t realize that forced busing and desegregation were combustible issues in Dallas in the early ’70s when the Cowboys were shedding their reputation as next year’s champions and winning their first Super Bowl.

He probably doesn’t know Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Renfro filed a civil suit against the city of Dallas in the late ’60s because he couldn’t buy a house in a certain part of town.

We’re still talking about a country where many African-American families are celebrating their first generation of college graduates. Is there more opportunity than ever for African-Americans to succeed? Of course, but let’s not act like discrimination doesn’t exist.

That’s just dumb – kind of like Bennett’s video about the Black Olympics.