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Martellus Bennett says raised fist was a ‘sign of unity’

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Martellus Bennett was trying to “invite attention into the conversation” with his gesture last Sunday.Getty Images/Getty

FOXBOROUGH — Martellus Bennett grew up on naval bases, under the care of a father who served for 10 years, and was surrounded by the American flag. There's no country he'd rather live in, he said. Bennett also grew into a tall, black man ("With tattoos!" he reminds) and knows from interacting with that country that, as much as he loves it, there are still things he wants to change.

"From the moments when you're riding in the car and there's a Young Jeezy song going, you hear the sirens in the background of the music and you panic and you freeze while you're driving," Bennett said. "When it gets to that point, it's time to really start having a conversation. I mean, I like Young Jeezy but, you know."

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The Patriots tight end spoke Wednesday about his decision to hold up a fist with safety Devin McCourty after the national anthem at last Sunday's game in Arizona. Bennett said the gesture was meant as a "sign of unity" for other players around the league who have opened up themselves to criticism by supporting Colin Kaepernick's protest over racial oppression.

"All we're trying to do is invite attention into the conversation, because it takes everybody," Bennett said. "It's not just blacks, it's not just whites, it's not just cops, it's not just police. It takes every single person in society to do their part, and no role is too small."

McCourty, who wore American flag socks to the game, which was played on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, has a father and an older brother who served in the Army.

McCourty said after the game that though many players have had different methods of advocating for change, they have talked about how they can combine forces to have greater impact.

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"It's all for the same cause: different social injustices," McCourty said. "We've talked as players throughout the league trying to make change in our communities one by one using our platform, not just doing it on Sundays and game days."

Bennett said it was important to him to wait until after the anthem was over, to make it clear that the American flag wasn't the object of the protest.

"Everything that it symbolizes, holding up the flag and all those fighting for those freedoms during that battle, that's huge for me and I believe in it," he said. "My dad served, and my dad protected that flag with his life."

Bennett remembers having conversations with his father while he was growing up about how to behave around police, and that he has those talks with his family even more now.

Bennett hosts camps and does a lot of work with children. He makes it a point not just to talk, but to act out various situations involving law enforcement the kids could find themselves in.

"You'd be surprised how scared a lot of kids are, and these are kids who are 12, 13," said Bennett. "So that's when it really starts to affect you."

Bennett is not sure whether he will raise his fist again this Sunday, when the Patriots host the Dolphins. Four Miami players — running back Arian Foster, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, receiver Kenny Stills, and safety Michael Thomas — knelt during the anthem in Week 1 as their gestures of protest.

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Bennett also said he had not heard from Bill Belichick about the demonstration.

"I don't know if it's a positive," Bennett said. "Sometimes you go home and your parents don't say anything to you, you did something. You don't know. But he knows that we're not being malicious."

Bennett knew there could be a reaction to the gesture, but he wasn't worried about backlash.

"I think when other people are changing something, everyone's usually afraid of it," he said. "No one really likes change, so when it's something that's foreign that they don't know, it's scary — even for us to go out there and do it, because we're going to get attacked."

Criticism is one thing. Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall lost sponsorships after he knelt during the national anthem. Bennett said that being willing to risk financial sacrifice is a powerful symbol.

"The way that pros are right now, there's really not as much morals or ethics, everything is about the dollar," Bennett said. "But when you can make an impact, it may affect your wallet, but how much is it really affecting your wallet?

"As much money as you make, what you could do for humanity and for society is a lot bigger than the dollar that you get."

Watch: Jim McBride and Ben Volin discuss the Patriots’ Week 2 matchup against the Dolphins


Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com.