By Jamal Murphy
There’s a tight end in New England who plays like a beast on the field, but is a bit of an oddball off of it.
No, not that goofy oddball, Gronk. The other one.
The Patriots traded for Martellus Bennett in the offseason to give them another vaunted two-tight end attack. The move has paid dividends for New England. Bennett’s 42 receptions lead Patriots tight ends, partly due to Rob Gronkowski’s injury-riddled season, which has forced Bennett to play an even greater role than most expected.
However, the Patriots got much more than an impact tight end in Bennett; they acquired a smart, funny, imaginative, innovative individual with a love for life.
Get this: Martellus (better known as Marty) describes himself as a Black Unicorn and a big dreamer. He started a company called The Imagination Agency, which develops, produces and distributes multimedia entertainment content through books and mobile apps. His website is heyaj.com, named after his daughter A.J.
“The Imagination Agency is just my creative company where I make films, write children’s books, make interactive children’s apps and it’s really just a design firm for me to get out all of my ideas,” Bennett explained to me after catching three passes from Tom Brady during the Patriots’ 22-17 win over the New York Jets at Met Life Stadium on Sunday.
He was in a great mood after the win, showing off his quick wit and sense of humor.
“I’m an animated guy,” Bennett said when asked about the emotion he showed after a catch and run for a first down in the second quarter. “I make animation and I’m an animated person. That’s just who I am. I’m always kinda fired up and I’m always ready to go.”
After a reporter asked Bennett what it felt like to be a part of a Tom Brady milestone (200 career victories), “Marty” had a different take. “I wasn’t really thinking about that,” he said. “It’s just a milestone for me. I never won nine games in a season before. I’m like ‘oh, we’re 9-2, hell yeah!’ He has 200 wins, I’m like ‘[expletive], I haven’t won 200 games in my life.’”
Bennett’s been in the league for a while now, to the point that he is known as “the old head” by many of his younger teammates. They come to him for advice, and he enthusiastically offers wisdom.
“I just love to see all my teammates have success,” Bennett gushed. “Anytime we work or talk together or whatever, it’s usually not really about football. It’s really just about growing up and being men and all the stuff I learned from the mistakes I had, so they don’t trip over the same things that I tripped over in their journey through life.”
With 390 career receptions and 27 touchdowns over nine years and all of the knowledge he’s acquired, he knows that life after football is on the horizon, and he is more than prepared.
“Football’s not forever, but I know that I want to create for the rest of my life. So, whether it’s writing cartoons or writing movies, that’s just what I want to do.”
His role on this year’s Patriots team is essentially the same as it has been on other teams during his career, throw in the occasional tight end reverse play that he ran for 4 yards during Sunday’s game. Gronkowski’s health hasn’t altered Bennett’s role or state of mind.
“I’ve been in this league a long time,” he said. “I’ve started for a long time. Me and [Gronkowski], we’re interchangeable… Everyone treats me like a starter, they respect me. Nothing changes in the game plan if I’m in or Gronk’s out. We just run our offense.”
So, while everyone justifiably talks about Gronkowski, both on and off the field, Martellus Bennett is formidable on the field and as interesting and diverse as they come, away from it.
“I’ve been creating all my life,” he told me. “I grew up playing instruments in band and when I first came into the league, I used to do a lot of art shows. So, you turn your hobbies into businesses, it’s just something I love to do.”
As you can probably guess, Bennett is far from done being creative.
“I got a couple books and apps coming out, a new pilot for a cartoon coming out next summer, and I’m starting to make more children’s clothes, too.”
It’s clear that Bennett is not your ordinary football player. In fact, he’s not your ordinary guy. No matter what he’s doing, he’s about enjoying life and making sure the people around him do the same. And, oh yeah, he loves the kids.
Jamal Murphy is a contributor to CBS Local. He writes extensively about college basketball, the NBA and other sports, often focusing on the intersection of sports and social justice/awareness. Listen to Jamal on the Bill Rhoden On Sports podcast (iTunes & Soundcloud) that he cohosts with legendary sports columnist, Bill Rhoden. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @Blacketologist.