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Why former NFL tight end Martellus Bennett now creates children’s books

Super Bowl LIII is just days away. For some players, it will be the pinnacle of their professional football careers. But after the glory and glamour of the NFL spotlight are past, these former athletes face a major challenge: What to do next? Paul Solman talks to former tight end Martellus Bennett about his entirely different post-NFL pursuit.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In just a few days, the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams will battle it out in Super Bowl LIII.

    For the players on the field, it will be the pinnacle of their pro football careers. But what about life after the NFL?

    Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, talked to former tight end Martellus Bennett about his pursuit of an entirely different career.

    It's part of our series Making Sense.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    I'm weird as (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

    (LAUGHTER)

    I mean, weird as stuff. I mean, I'm weird as…

  • Paul Solman:

    No, you — "I'm very weird." How's that?

  • Martellus Bennett:

    I'm very, very weird.

  • Paul Solman:

    Martellus Bennett may be the most outspoken professional football player of his generation. He also excelled at tight end for five teams, won the 2016 Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, and then, while on a spiritual retreat in Japan, retired at age 31.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    I don't always answer bird calls, but, when I do, they're from Tom Brady and Gronk.

  • Paul Solman:

    But during his 10-year career, Bennett was known as much for candor and wit as winning plays. And he's notably candid about the economics of pro sports.

    When did you realize that football was a business?

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Well, one of the moments was when I first had to write a check for taxes. Like, I didn't know what the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) taxes were. You know what I'm saying?

    (LAUGHTER)

    Like, taxes, like, I thought they took that directly out my check. You mean they only withhold 20 percent, when they were supposed to do another 17 percent? Now I got to write checks to this guy I have heard of, but I never met personally, Uncle Sam.

    Like, what the hell's going on? You grow up, no one really teaches you about taxes, especially as an athlete.

  • Paul Solman:

    Even in Bennett's middle-class family, finances weren't discussed. But he did learn a lasting economics lesson at age 14, when the high-flying energy company Enron went bust due to corporate malfeasance, and put his dad out of a job.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    I just remember that — economically, changing in our household too. My dad comes out. He's a black guy that's I.T.

    There's 15,000 people all wanting the same job. For him to try to find a job in that space, not being able to find work for a long period of time…

  • Paul Solman:

    In Houston?

  • Martellus Bennett:

    In Houston. And at that moment is when I realized I was going to be a entrepreneur the rest of my life. I never wanted to work for anybody, because the circumstances that we went through as a family wasn't because of my dad. It was because of the people at the top of a company that he worked with.

  • Paul Solman:

    Seven years later, Bennett was a high draft pick in the NFL.

    What was your signing bonus?

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Was it 2.5, or was it 1.5? Whatever it was, it wasn't enough.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    You're talking $1.5 million or $2.5 million?

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Yes, million dollars, yes.

    I don't have any of that money from that contract, and I don't know where it's at, don't know where it went to, where it — how it was spent. Like, I was a 20-year-old kid. Didn't really have people around me who managed that amount of money in their lifetime, so, like, they couldn't really tell me how to manage it as well.

  • Paul Solman:

    What he did with the money was straight out of a kid's fantasy.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    I cashed a big check, and I got a briefcase. And I, like, handcuffed myself to the briefcase, and I took it home. And I just threw the money in the air.

    And it's like, I'm rich (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you know, just throwing money in the air. And I laid in it. And I woke up, there was like 20s on my face from sweating in the money.

    Then I put it all back, and took it back to the bank. I turned the ceiling fan out too for the special effects.

  • Paul Solman:

    So that the money was swirling?

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Yes. At the fund-raisers as a kid, they used to do this thing where you would get in this machine, and they'd turn the air on, and all this money would fly up.

  • Paul Solman:

    Yes, yes. I have seen those.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Right? And I never really got picked to go in that machine, right?

    (LAUGHTER)

    I'm like, damn. Like, if I can get $20, I was like — I had a plan. I'm going to do my shirt like this. I know I'm — like, the whole time, I'm just, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me!

    (LAUGHTER)

    And I — all through middle school, I never got picked, right? You know what I'm saying? I always wanted to be the guy in the money machine.

    And every time I knew they would come, I would dress appropriately for…

  • Paul Solman:

    With a big apron, you mean, so you could…

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Yes. Like, I just had a big plan to get all the money. You know what I'm saying?

  • Paul Solman:

    Right. Right.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    I'm like, why everybody wait for the money to float, and no one gets it off the ground? Just sit down and like — they never picked me, right?

    But then I got drafted, and I had all the money. And then I created the machine for myself, and I was able to get all that money, and I felt great about it.

  • Paul Solman:

    At its peak, Bennett's annual pay was over $5 million. But he soon realized that, in football, the money only floats for so long.

    So he began saving, and in 2014 formed a multimedia storytelling company, The Imagination Agency, which grew out of his love for cartoons and sketching them and his love of books.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    My goal is to be surrounded by books.

  • Paul Solman:

    Even more books than his literary inspiration.

  • Actress:

    I have never seen so many books in all my life.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Belle from "Beauty and the Beast." I think it's every reader's dream to have that library.

  • Paul Solman:

    Did your teammates read?

    (LAUGHTER)

    No? Why is it funny?

  • Martellus Bennett:

    I mean, a lot of them — the majority of them, no. Like, why read? Your world is totally different, so you're not growing your skills.

    And a lot of times in college and in high school, you didn't have to read either. Right? You were just pushed along because of your talent.

    Oh, hey. I'm just a dinosaur reading about dinosaurs.

  • Paul Solman:

    But Bennett, who says he majored in eligibility in college, read voraciously on his own, pursued a lifelong interest in art, and began releasing work while still playing, preparing for life after the NFL, the initials, some say, of Not For Long.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    If the average career in the NFL is three-and-a-half years, and the average lifespan is 70-something years, that is a tiny blip on your lifespan.

    If this is all that you really care about, and this is who makes you what you are, then you're going to suffer for a long time in the grand scheme of life. But, you know, I wanted more.

  • Paul Solman:

    Even NFL players who do try to diversify away from football, like recently retired Brian Orakpo and Michael Griffin, usually get into business too late, says Bennett.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    You got to ride that wave while you have their attention. I always tell guys, you have their attention right now, because, once you're out of the league, no one's really going to care.

  • Paul Solman:

    Since his own retirement last year, Bennett has hurtled himself into his work at The Imagination Agency, producing an animated series, mobile apps and children's books about A.J., a character based on his 4-year-old daughter, Austyn Jett Rose.

    A new book will come out in March, a letter of encouragement to black boys.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Within the black community, we don't really get to experience escapism as kids. Right?

    We don't get to dream of being astronauts and seeing ourselves or kids that look like us in these movies or any sci — especially sci-fi. You know what I'm saying? We was just happy with Lando in "Star Wars," you know what I'm saying?

  • Billy Dee Williams:

    You got a lot of guts coming here.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    You get to the library. You shuffle through all the books. You're looking through the books, like, dang, this book, this book, no characters in these books that look like you. Only 2 percent of children's books are kids of color.

  • Johnny Depp:

    Try some of this. It'll do you good.

  • Paul Solman:

    Consider Roald Dahl, who, under pressure from his agent, uncolorized the lead character of one of Bennett's all-time favorite books, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Then it came out that was — in Roald Dahl's mind, Charlie was black. His estate said that. And I was like, oh, that would — for me to be able to like, as a kid who admired Willy Wonka, and to have a kid that looked like me go to the chocolate factory, could you imagine how that would've blown my mind?

    I probably would be making chocolate right now somewhere.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    Now, football is still a big part of Bennett's life. He co-hosts a weekly digital show called "Mostly Football." His brother, Eagles defensive lineman Michael Bennett, was a guest when we dropped by.

  • Martellus Bennett:

    When are you going to join me in retirement, so you can go out here and take the world by storm?

  • Michael Bennett:

    If you're still playing great, it's kind of hard to retire and not play.

  • Paul Solman:

    So, on the eve of the Super Bowl, a final question for the former New England tight end.

    So, everybody hates the New England Patriots, except, of course, people who live in the region, right?

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Yes.

  • Paul Solman:

    Why? And is it justified?

  • Martellus Bennett:

    Because everyone has a team they want to root for, and they have all these — every year, the Cowboys are going to win the Super Bowl, right? Every single year, you know, Baltimore Ravens are going to be a new team. The Steelers are going to go back to the playoffs, like the Giants.

    Like, everyone's rooting for this team. And then, at the end of the day, who's always there? The Patriots, right? It's like, damn, how do they get to enjoy this moment so often?

    It's just hard, when you constantly have hopes and dreams, and always have to watch someone else win.

  • Paul Solman:

    On Sunday, we will learn if the Patriots dash yet more hopes and dreams.

    But Martellus Bennett will be trying to cash in on dreams of an entirely different sort.

    This is economics correspondent and reluctant Patriots fan Paul Solman, reporting from Los Angeles.

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