Texas-born Martellus Bennett may have found quick success on the football field for the New England Patriots, but the tight end is also a creative savant. Through his company The Imagination Agency, he’s written a children’s book (Hey A.J., It's Saturday), filmed a short animated film (Zoovie), and hopes to one day open art centers.
Marcellus Bennett speaking at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Boston.
We spoke with Bennett after his panel at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit about balancing his creativity with football and why the Patriots locker room is the best one he’s ever been in.
Boston Common: How do you balance your two passions? Your creative side and your football side… Martellus Bennett: For me, it’s just who I am. All of it has to be working together. Otherwise, football doesn’t work, creativity doesn’t work, so it’s like if I’m shutting off one, then I’m shutting off who I am and that makes me unhappy. When I’m unhappy, I don’t do good stuff.
Were you creative when you were young? MB: As a kid, I grew up playing three instruments. Trombone is my number one instrument, but sometimes I had to play the trumpet and I played the clarinet because everyone else played it. I’ve been wanting to get a trombone because I want my daughter to learn how to play it so we could make music together. I feel like once I get back into it, I’ll pick it up more. One of my punishments as a kid (my mom was a teacher) was I had to write creative stories.
That’s an awesome punishment. MB: So, I believe in a 10,000-hour rule, right? Malcolm Gladwell. So I believe I’m more natural as a writer with room to create than I was to play football. I have to work a lot harder with football than I do with creating stuff.
At what age did you know football was something you wanted to pursue? MB: I mean… we’re from Texas. If you don’t play football, what kind of boy are you? So, we were always pretty good. And I was an NBA draft out of high school. I played all sports growing up, but my parents also let me do everything else I wanted to do. At a young age, I always wanted to make movies and cartoons. I used to be in plays and do stuff like that, as well.
You published a children’s book and you have your short animated film. What’s next? MB: I have an interactive children’s book app as well. Right now, I’m working on a new cartoon project. I’m actually working on two projects at the same time. I’m starting my first foundation: the Uncle Smarty foundation. So we’re going to start building arts centers and reading centers for kids. I wrote my first full feature film, so I’m still shopping that around. But, just making what I feel like making. That’s the best thing. I want to start making more toys and I want to do a really cool children’s clothing line for the spring. I just like to do stuff for kids.
You mentioned during your Forbes discussion that you want to create more black characters. MB: It’s hard because… Toy Story just had its 20th anniversary and in those since they created CGI, there’s only been one major motion picture ever directed by an African American. But the thing is, there’s not a lot of black creators. We’re just underrepresented. So, for me, I have a chance to do it. It’s not like I don’t have white characters. I have them, but the majority of my characters are African American. Plus, that’s just what I know. It’s what I grew up with. And, you’re trying to create characters that are universal. A lot of times, when people do make characters and it’s about ethnicity, it focuses on ethnicity and they don’t just focus on that kid being an awesome kid. And that’s what I’m trying to do: just make awesome kids, no matter what color they are.
And it starts with the arts centers that you mentioned. MB: Yes, give them a chance cause where I come from, you feel like you’re taught that dribbling and catching a ball is the way to get a better life. The kids who rap, they never think about scoring soundtracks, but they’re just as talented, but they don’t know that they can. Kids don’t know that they can get a scholarship or grant for creative writing. The whole idea is to give them that information, so they can take that and see that it’s a possibility.
Your parents seemed to give you that opportunity. MB: My parents… the way we were raised, my brothers and sisters and I… they supported everything. If I had band practice, they treated it just like football practice, so they’d make sure I got there. It wasn’t like “oh, he’s going to band, get there late; football, let's get you there.”
When you’re in season do you balance the creative as well as football or do you compartmentalize everything? MB: I do both. I balance because I play better football when I’m creative. And the times that I wasn’t creative is when I was miserable playing. It’s just like shutting a part of yourself off.
Are you excited to have the team to back together now? MB: Yeah, I’m super excited. I just love playing. I play football because I love playing football. I could do lots of other stuff, but I actually love playing football. It’s just fun. So every time they pay me, I’m like “man, they’re paying me to play football?” So, I’m super excited. We have a great group of guys. The best locker room I’ve ever been in in my life.