Off the playing field, Martellus Bennett is anything but the stereotypical NFL athlete.
Children’s books, playgrounds, a cartoon project, his own creative agency and now children’s clothing are all part of his design arsenal. Nearly four years ago, the Super Bowl champ kicked off The Imagination Agency to exercise his seemingly boundless creative spirit. Bridging the divide between brawn and brainy is something he excelled at in high school. “For some reason as a kid being a smart athlete didn’t seem like the right thing, because you didn’t fit in. You didn’t want to be too smart because you’d be a nerd. But then you didn’t want to be too dumb either because then you didn’t get the grades you needed to play. I would try to get a B on purpose just to try to fit in with my friends. Then after a couple of years I became a bridge. I was able to bridge the gap between the chess club and the basketball team — or the library and the football team,” the 30-year-old tight end said.
That kind of autonomy has served him well in and out of five different clubhouses. At the start of a $21 million three-year deal with the Green Bay Packers, Bennett has famously described the switch to Aaron Rodgers from the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady as going from J. Lo to Halle Berry. “Yeah, I mean those two are just a win-win situation,” he said.
His affability has made him a go-to guy for design advice within the NFL. “I have players ring me up every day asking for a reference, design ideas, or what I think about this or that — Ty Montgomery, Michael Bennett, of course my brother Michael [of the Seattle Seahawks,] Marion Barber — just good guys from all over. I talk to Julian Edelman all the time about different stuff design-wise. Julian’s working on a children’s book, different videos…He always does a really good job with all his stuff. He’ll be working on different videos. He will call me up and say, ‘Hey man, can you come over and brainstorm with us?’ I’ll say, ‘Sure, I’ll be there in a second. Order pizza.’”
Whatever the medium, his message boils down to “Dreams come true, but dreams don’t wait for you. You have to chase your dreams. There’s a difference between being a dreamer and a dream catcher. And you’re allowed to have more than one dream,” he explained. “There’s this pressure from society to make you feel that once you’ve accomplished one of your dreams then you’ve made it. But there’s no reason for you to give up on all your dreams. You can be more than one thing.
“Society wants you to be one thing because then they can understand you. When you do multiple things people say, ‘But you play in the NFL, why would you want to build a creative agency? What else could you possibly do? You’ve fulfilled your dream.’ That is only one of my dreams,” he said. “If you ask a kid what their dreams are, they will give you a list that is as long as I am tall. Once you get older that list gets shorter and shorter, so dreams shrink. I think dreams should grow as you get older.”
He always wanted to write more books than Dr. Seuss and has counted on Roald Dahl as another motivator — especially his character Willy Wonka. “I feel like I’m Willy Wonka but instead of serving chocolate, my chocolate is creativity. I’m serving creativity to the world. Although I wish I could sell chocolate.”
In July, MartyLand x Mimobee will debut. While drawing dresses for “A.J.” in his children’s book series, Bennett’s daughter Austyn Jett and the inspiration for the lead character, sang out her approval and asked him to make her some. He agreed, not realizing she meant actual dresses. “If I make a promise to my daughter, I like to follow through with it,” Bennett said.
Familiar with Mimobee through his wife Siggi Walker’s e-commerce site Halfsies, Bennett reached out to its founders to collaborate. “I’ve always been interested in clothing because it’s an extension of how we feel. It’s another way to tell a story. If I were to wear pajamas to work. It kind of tells people either, ‘Hey, I don’t give a s–t’ or I just rolled out of bed and I was running late,” he said, clarifying that is not something he has done. “I’m more of a cartoon character. I wear the same things all the time.”
Partial to three-piece suits and more of a shirt-and-tie kind of guy, his everyday attire is more nondescript. “If I had to label my style it would be called ‘rich bum.’ You don’t know if I’m rich or I’m poor when you see me. I like Michael McNairy, I’ve been wearing Off-White a bit. I still wear Comme des Garçons. I love this brand called Keeping New York Every Where. There’s another brand called FourTwoFour Fairfax,” Bennett said. “I get a lot of custom pieces made. My staple pieces are usually very strong pieces from very strong brands. Everything else just fits in where it gets in.”
Asked how his creative acclaim might help to offset the NFL’s less favorable headlines or fans’ perspectives, Bennett said, “It’s not really about trying to change them. I’m just trying to show them a different side of things that they might not know existed. If you only lived on one side of the mountain and you didn’t know there were flowers and a lake on the other side…I’m just trying to show them what’s on the other side of the mountain,” he said.
The former Patriot said he talks to Brady about style all the time and sometimes about shoes since they’re both fans of boots. Bennett said, “I believe he’s sponsored by Tom Ford, though, so he’s sort of cheating. I don’t think you have style if you have a stylist, for the most part. I always like guys who dress themselves.”
“Tom Brady’s like, what you would think James Bond would be like. The way his suits are cut, the sweater he wears, the way his jeans fit. Another guy that I love who dresses very well is Brandon Marshall. He he dresses in a very European way but there’s hardly a lot of that. A lot guys look good in suits but they don’t have street style or everyday style. Matt Forte can do both. He dresses well all the time — off–the-field and when he’s in suits. He’s a well-dressed guy,” Bennett said.
“When you look at football players, you don’t look at them as stylish people like you do with basketball [players.] With basketball players, you see them dressed up all the time because you get to see them walk into the stadium. In the NFL, there are a couple of guys like Odell Beckham Jr. who will show up at fashion week but they have to try really hard to be in the fashion world. Victor Cruz and guys like that who have to go model and things like that. There are a lot of guys that just have really good style like Bob Miller. He’s very quirky with his style but it fits well and looks good.”
For Martyland children’s wear, he was determined to use all different shades. “I love color. I think it’s amazing especially for kids. Kids should always be in colors. It should be a colorful world out there,” he said. “I don’t like to do the OshKosh B’Gosh or Wal-Mart style of color where it’s pink for girls or blue for boys. I think that’s ridiculous. I just try to find something that felt very unisex, you know?”
Finalizing design plans on his first playground for the city of Houston, where he grew up, Bennett said, “Every kid deserves a great place to play and to express their imagination. It’s the same thing with the clothing that I did. It’s really cool and nice but it was built for kids to play in. I remember as a kid, we had good clothes so you could not play outside in them. You should be able to play outside in anything. You should be comfortable and just able to go out there and play in them no matter what.”
The NFL-er said he is in talks with Adidas and an Adidas spokesman declined to comment Tuesday. Trying to get a cartoon series off-the-ground with Nickelodeon or one of the networks, Bennett would ultimately like to develop a TV show and film and design a theme park. He said, “I’m trying to tell stories in as many facets as possible. Everything is to be a multidimensional creator.”
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