Bennett’s worldview and understanding of race has been intensified by experiences like these. Wasting few words and fewer emotions in this memoir (written with Dave Zirin, sports editor of The Nation), he starts by examining the brutal realities of both collegiate and professional football.

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The former Texas A&M Aggie includes poignant descriptions of his undergraduate years, noting that racism was at the center of his college experience. He also explains how post-traumatic stress disorder triggered in high school and college can follow athletes long after the stadium crowds stop roaring. As an Aggie, Bennett explains, he was “half god, half property,” subject to so many restrictions that he was socked with a one-game suspension for leaving campus to attend his 2-year-old daughter’s birthday party. Bennett still resents going undrafted in 2009, the result, he believes, of his inability to live by the advice given to athletes: “Stick to sports.”

Asking the N.F.L. “to lead on social issues sometimes seems like asking a dog to meow,” he remarks early on. But he’s also found football’s brotherhood invaluable, forming bonds with his former coach Pete Carroll, as well as Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Cliff Avril, Justin Britt, Albert Haynesworth and the late Cortez Kennedy. At the same time, the physical toll football has taken isn’t an inheritance he wishes to pass along. If he were to have a son, Bennett says, he wouldn’t let him take up football. The fear of dying while playing is very real, something Bennett carries onto the field each Sunday — not necessarily because he’s afraid of death but because he’s aware of the crater such a loss would leave in the lives of his three daughters and his wife, Pele, whom he credits with helping form his compassionate worldview.

Activism is important to Bennett. It’s why he’s involved in eliminating food deserts in black communities. It’s why the death of Charleena Lyles, shot by the Seattle police after she called to report an attempted burglary, tied him to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s why he’s uncomfortable merely calling himself a feminist, deciding to act on his beliefs by helping provide science, technology, engineering and math programs to young women of color. It’s why he’s adamant about taking inspiration from the June 1967 meeting of pro athlete social activists that’s come to be known as the Ali Summit. And it’s why Colin Kaepernick, still in exile from the N.F.L., has his lifelong support. The conversation Kaepernick’s actions helped ignite, Bennett believes, was more valuable than any of his own paychecks.

That conversation — illuminating systemic racism — is the most important “thing” that makes white people uncomfortable, as his title has it. An admirer of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali and many others, Bennett is an agent of change. Faced with apathy from white athletes and fans, he urges them to take action. “Don’t feel guilty,” he writes. “Do something to make it better. Help us heal by standing — or sitting — alongside us.”

By the conclusion of his book, Bennett has delved into all the hot-button issues his title suggests. “I’ll be a football player for just a few more years,” he points out, “but I’ll be black forever. When I’m driving with my family down the street in a nice car in a nice neighborhood and the police see us, they don’t see Michael Bennett the college graduate, the husband or the loving father. … They immediately see a black man who could possibly be dangerous.”

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