Bennett brothers in arms as Packers, Seahawks highlight NFL openers
Los Angeles (AFP)
The Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers take centre stage as the NFL season cranks into gear on Sunday, bringing into sharp focus anthem protests that have divided the sport.
The Lambeau Field clash between two of the NFL's best teams will see Seattle's Michael Bennett line up opposite younger brother Martellus, who joined the Packers from New England in the off-season.
It promises to be an emotional reunion for the two men, who have been among the most prominent figures in the wave of activism that has swirled around the NFL since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick launched his protests last year.
Kaepernick's rallying cry against the treatment of minorities by law enforcement resonates even more deeply with Michael Bennett, who alleged this week that he had been the victim of racial discrimination after being threatened at gunpoint by Las Vegas police.
"Las Vegas police officers singled me out and pointed their guns at me for doing nothing more than simply being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time," Bennett said in a statement.
Bennett's allegations, denied by police in Las Vegas, prompted an outpouring of support from fellow players, coaches and NFL officialdom.
Martellus Bennett became emotional when discussing his brother's treatment with reporters on Wednesday, revealing he had left a team meeting in tears after learning of it.
"I had to walk out of meetings because I broke down crying, just thinking about what could have happened, what could have been," Martellus Bennett said. "So for me, I'll just be happy to see my brother, because there's a chance I couldn't see him."
Michael Bennett, along with several Seahawks team-mates have protested the national anthem in pre-season games this year. Martellus, a talented cartoonist who has authored children's books, has not, but said he planned to express himself through other means.
"I like to speak through my art, my words and things like that," Martellus Bennett said.
- 'Fantastic' Rodgers -
When the pre-match anthem is over, the Bennett brothers will turn their attention to stopping two of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL.
The Packers will once again pin their hopes for the season on the form of the majestic Aaron Rodgers, the Packers quarterback viewed by many as the best signal-caller in the league even if he is still waiting for a second Super Bowl title.
"He's at the peak of his career. He's at the top of his game," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said of Rodgers. "It's hard to imagine what more he can do or how much better he can play. He is just such a fantastic football player."
The Seahawks meanwhile will be led by Russell Wilson, looking to return to the Super Bowl after back-to-back appearances in 2014 and 2015.
Elsewhere on Sunday, the other standout fixtures include the Dallas Cowboys' NFC East clash with the New York Giants in Arlington, Texas.
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott will be available for the Cowboys as he battles an NFL suspension for domestic violence.
"He seems very focused, locked in on meetings," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Elliott. "He's done an excellent job in his preparation."
The Cowboys will aim to avenge last season's home-and-away losses to the Giants as "America's Team" aim to build on their 13-3 regular season record from last year.
Meanwhile the Atlanta Falcons will launch what they hope is a season of redemption against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, last season's Most Valuable Player, insists the team are ready to move on from their traumatic defeat against New England in February, when they blew a 28-3 lead as the Patriots pulled off the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history in Houston.
Ryan, a 10-year veteran, has spent the off-season determined to return a more complete player.
"That has been one of the things that has been awesome this offseason is to try and attack a few of those things," Ryan said. "Hopefully, I put in that work. I feel like I have. I feel like I'm in a really good place coming into this season."
© 2017 AFP