Sun-Times writers react to Martellus Bennett’s suspension
SUN-TIMES STAFF WRITERS August 5, 2014 9:49PM
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Updated: September 7, 2014 6:37AM
BOURBONNAIS — Bears rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller didn’t have much to say. To him, tight end Martellus Bennett’s suspension after his run-in with Fuller a day earlier — an altercation that peaked with the larger Bennett throwing Fuller to the ground — was a coach’s decision.
‘‘At the end of the day, a decision had to be made,’’ Fuller said. ‘‘And they made it.’’
General manager Phil Emery said Tuesday that Bennett’s suspension is ‘‘for an undetermined length of time’’ for ‘‘conduct detrimental to the team.’’ Bennett also was fined an undisclosed amount.
Fuller seemed intent on moving past the incident.
‘‘I didn’t think anything of it,” the first-round pick said.
But the Bears undeniably did, handing down a punishment that speaks volumes.
This can’t be the whole story. An NFL team fining and suspending a player indefinitely for getting into a fight with a teammate during training camp?
That’s what the Bears did with tight end Martellus Bennett on Tuesday, a day after he threw first-round pick Kyle Fuller to the ground.
Fights are as much a part of NFL training camps as Gatorade is. Some coaches like them and some don’t, but unless someone gets hurt, everybody just moves on. Business as usual.
That’s what doesn’t make sense about the Bennett suspension. Was it his comments after Monday’s skirmish with Fuller, when he told reporters he wasn’t there to make friends? If that’s it, maybe the Bears are taking this whole ‘‘family’’ fiction a little too far. Just because you work closely with someone doesn’t mean he’s your brother or sister. (I talk to Rick Telander all the time, but that doesn’t mean I consider him family. A crazy uncle, maybe.)
That’s just football coaches trying to build team unity, and most everybody can see through it.
But even Bennett’s comments didn’t strike me as particularly caustic. He was still obviously irritated about being pulled to the ground by Fuller in an 11-on-11 drill. Hard to blame him. His takedown of Fuller wasn’t a good thing, but you can understand why it happened.
That’s why there has to be more to this — unless anger has been added to the NFL’s banned list.
ADAM L. JAHNS
Tight end Martellus Bennett is ‘‘away from the team,’’ as Bears general manager Phil Emery put it, because he’s treading into distraction territory. Teams will shrug off occasional scuffles, but distractions are treated like the Ebola virus.
Counting Bennett’s tussle with cornerback Kelvin Hayden last training camp and his expletive-filled, helmet-slamming skirmish with defensive end Lamarr Houston in June, Bennett has had three showdowns with teammates in one calendar year.
It’s a pattern of unwanted behavior that directly contradicts coach Marc Trestman’s oft-stated stance against fighting during practice. Bennett’s incendiary, made-for-TV responses to questions about his actions don’t exactly help, either.
All of it makes Bennett’s routinely slow walks back to huddles — which fans have noticeably commented on in Bourbonnais — look even worse. He’s a walking distraction.
Coaches have praised Bennett’s work habits in the past, and his game-day value is priceless. He’s likable, witty and thoughtful, and coaches and players lined up to declare their love for him Tuesday.
But a break is best for all involved. Even the most loving relationships need that.
From Phil Emery to Marc Trestman to Aaron Kromer to Kyle Fuller and the rest of his teammates, it seems as if everyone with the Bears has moved on from the Martellus Bennett incident except one person — Martellus Bennett. That Bennett is not with the team, that the suspension was indefinite, that the Bears seem to be in negotiation mode (‘‘We are in contact with him’’), that they refused to characterize Bennett’s reaction to the fine and suspension — plus Bennett’s own public defiance Monday — indicates Bennett did not take the news well.
The Bears have moved on. But that doesn’t mean this is over. The biggest threat is they might have to move on without Bennett for longer than they’d like, because Bennett is a different kind of cat. He’s a strong-willed personality who doesn’t think he did anything wrong.
And the Bears didn’t offer the least bit of evidence Tuesday that Bennett gets it. After solving Jay Cutler, this could be the ultimate challenge for Trestman. You have to think his calming demeanor and power of persuasion can get Bennett back on board. But until the public apology, all bets are off.
Martellus Bennett uses his words unlike any other player in the NFL. Who else could have dreamed up the Orange Dinosaur or the Black Unicorn?
Which makes the reasoning behind his suspension ironic: He wasn’t hearing what the Bears repeatedly told him.
Every time the Bears have a practice skirmish, coach Marc Trestman says the same thing: Conflict is inevitable on a sticky practice field, but anything that would garner a penalty in a game is unacceptable.
Had it happened during a game, Monday’s body slamming of first-round pick Kyle Fuller — Bennett’s third fight, at least, dating to last training camp — would have prompted a swift ejection and three days of debate on ‘‘First Take.’’
Bennett says he can separate the two sides of him. With pride, he calls himself ‘‘probably one of the most violent players on the field.’’
It can’t be on the Bears’ practice field, though. The team has told him so before. He didn’t listen.
On Tuesday, they let their suspension do the talking.
He’ll be back soon enough. The real test will be whether he does it again.