Sitting by the pool in the back yard of his Honolulu home three years ago, Michael Bennett watched his three daughters, Peyton, Blake and Ollie, play in the water.
A Super Bowl champion still in his prime, fresh off of his second-straight Pro-Bowl season and preparing for what would be a third in a row, Bennett knew even then that there were more important things in his life than his NFL career.
"Family is so important to me because it's the core of everything," Bennett said three summers ago. "Everything else doesn't really matter. How many sacks I get, how much money I make, it doesn't matter if I can't be a great father or a great husband or a great brother or a great uncle."
Bennett recorded plenty of sacks and made a lot of money in an 11-year career, but the player once described as a Renaissance man by former teammate Red Bryant, always recognized the bigger picture, including his family, which is why his retirement, which he announced on Tuesday, feels less like and ending and more like the just another step in the journey of one of the most unique players to ever wear a Seahawks uniform.
"Retiring feels a little like death of self, but I'm looking forward to the rebirth - the opportunity to reimagine my purpose," Bennett wrote in an Instagram post. "I would like to thank my wife and children, who have sacrificed so much for me to succeed. I'm looking forward to supporting them the same way they have me these past 11 years. I have never been more at peace in my life.
"As the great Toni Morrison said: 'Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.'"
Bennett, who began his career in Seattle as an undrafted free agent in 2009, returned in 2013 as a free agent, signing a day after Cliff Avril in one of the best weeks of free agency in franchise history. Those two played a crucial role in turning an already great defense into a historically great one, with the Seahawks leading the NFL in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense and takeaways in 2013 on the way to the first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Over five seasons with the Seahawks, Bennett recorded 39 sacks, including a career-best 10 in 2015 when he earned the first of three consecutive Pro-Bowl nods, and he was equally disruptive against the run as a versatile lineman who could wreak havoc as an end or defensive tackle, as was evident in his 69 tackles for loss in five seasons in Seattle, including 18 in 2015 when he ranked fifth in the NFL in that category.
But the numbers, Pro-Bowl nods and even victories only scratch the surface of who Bennett was during his time in Seattle and the rest of his career. Bennett was equal parts jokester, philanthropist, outspoken advocate for social justice while also trying his hand as an author.
Bennett, AKA, Black Santa, had a joke for nearly every occasion, a funny critique of every opposing quarterback, a sensual sack dance, and he once famously commandeered a Seattle Police officer's bike to take a victory lap around CenturyLink Field after Seattle's improbable overtime victory over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. But Bennett wasn't just a fun-loving comedian, he was also a player worthy of being Seattle's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of The Year Award in 2017, a player who used his platform to help around the world, from his adopted home state of Hawaii—his wife, Pele, is from there—where he held free camps and health clinics in the summer; to Seattle and his hometown of Houston; to South Dakota where he visited the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and hosted a camp and health clinic; to Africa where his foundation partnered with the iamtheCode global movement to get marginalized girls in Africa into STEAMED (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, entrepreneurship and design) programs; to Haiti where he supported Avril's efforts to build a school.
"Everything is about more than football," Bennett said in 2017. "As an athlete, you want to be able to transcend sports. Not just be relevant in your sport, but be relevant in things that matter outside of sports. To be able to talk to kids about life, school, community, health. I want to empower young athletes to use their platform."
Bennett was also an early leader, after San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick, in the movement of NFL players fighting against racism and police brutality, joining several teammates to push for changes in areas like policing and criminal justice.
"At the end of the day, I'm a Black man in America, and that outweighs every play I ever make on the football field," said Bennett, who would go on to write a book called "Things that Make White People Uncomfortable" that was published in 2018. "No matter how many sacks I make, if I walk into the wrong place, they're going to see me as a Black man."
Bennett's football playing days are over after an impressive 11-year NFL career, but if his time in Seattle and other NFL cities showed us anything, it's that he is only getting started on leaving his mark on the world.
Check out photos of Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett from throughout his five seasons with the Seahawks. Bennett announced his retirement from the NFL on July 21, 2020.