Michael Bennett’s Second Act After Football Is Well Designed

In contrast to his football peers like Richard Sherman or Michael Strahan, former Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett has chosen a distinct path. Rather than analyzing NFL plays, Bennett is focused on a mission to integrate social justice into his post-NFL career. This journey includes various endeavors, such as authoring a 2018 book titled “Things That Make White People Uncomfortable” for Haymarket Books and creating designs for public exhibition.

According to Bustler, in September, Bennett crafted designs that were showcased during New York City’s Archtober celebration of design, which took place Oct. 12-18. Archtober is described as “New York’s premier public design exhibition” by NYCxDesign.

During his time at the Heritage School of Interior Design he established a scholarship for Black designers. In a conversation with Stephanie Thornton Plymale for HSID, Bennett discussed his ambitions, saying “I want to open up a multi-disciplinary studio that would include furniture design, architecture planning, as well as community planning. I want to work in a central space with many other individuals where we can all work together. I feel like in design there are so many systemic injustices, and we can work to dismantle those. Unless we have designers and people who can understand that there are problems that need to be solved, there will be no solving them.”

Bennett has achieved that goal, according to Fast Company, the multi-hyphenate plans to open a design practice, Studio Kër in November. Studio Kër, Bennett tells the outlet, takes its name from his Senegalese ancestry and it means home. Bennett, who is the creative drector at Studio Kër, draws his inspiration from figures like activist Angela Davis, the prison abolitionist who was connected to the Black Panthers in the 1960s, and Booker T. Washington, known for his philosophy of pragmatic self-determination and his conviction that the demonstration of hard work showcased the inherent humanity of Black individuals to white counterparts, found himself engaged in an ideological dispute with W.E.B. Du Bois during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Bennett told Fast Company that his design ethos is one that works absent of labels.

“I think of myself more like a spatial designer, or a spatial practitioner,” Bennett said. “I just like space; so wherever media that needs to be expressed to talk about a particular emotion or talk about a particular idea, I want to dive into it. I don’t want to put a title on it.”

Bennett’s design display at the recent exhibit, entitled Public Display, iswas made of cross-laminated timber, two panels of the material create the framework for a display framing slices of life or pieces of sky, surrounded by benches and stools, giving its viewers the opportunity to contemplate city life in a community space. Bennett says that it was the COVID-19 pandemic that first allowed him the space to breathe.

“Usually during life, the water’s so rough you can’t really see a reflection; and during COVID, the water was still, so we had a chance to reflect on a lot of things,” Bennett recalled. “During those reflections, you can’t hide. You have to truly look at yourself and see that in its purest form. I had a chance to realize my family is beautiful. I reached the highest of the heights, and it’s time to try something different.”

His brother, Martellus, is also a designer, retired NFL player, and similarly, a bit of a Renaissance man. Martellus has written four children’s books, one of which is getting turned into a Disney animated film, and he described how he always knew his brother was destined to pursue his passions after he retired from the NFL, “I don’t think he always knew that—where he would go after—but I think he has this relationship with the game to understand that and know that it’s going to end.” 

Martellus described how his brother and his design piece, Public Display mirror each other, telling Fast Company, “The piece by itself is strong, but it’s the strongest when people are around it, and why I think that is important is because I feel like Michael is the same way.”

He added, “I think Michael by himself is strong, but Michael with family and people around him is at his strongest.”

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