Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett is best known for playing football, but he also writes children’s books. Bennett read his book Hey A.J., It’s Saturday in the kids department at Macy’s in New York City on May 6. Sixteen kids, who ranged from four to eight years old, sat on a green carpet listening to Bennett, laughing and screaming with delight.
Hey A.J., It’s Saturday is a book about a girl who loves breakfast on Saturday mornings and finds animals making the meal in her kitchen. Because the book is about breakfast, Bennett asked the kids in the audience about their favorite food before the reading. And did they like their waffles soft or crispy? Lucas, a seven-year-old in attendance, said the book was “good” and “funny,” especially the part with the monkeys spilling food.
Before Bennett read to the kids, I spoke to him about football and his career as a storyteller. Afterward, he offered me a Shirley Temple, which is his favorite drink in the world.
What drove you to write children’s books?
Well, I like to tell stories. I’m a storyteller. I’m like your travel agent. When you read a book, you read about different places, so I look at myself as a children’s travel agent. I like to write and take children on great adventures, so that’s why I started writing.
Where do your ideas for your books come from?
Most of them happen on the toilet. When I’m sitting on the toilet, I have the best ideas.
How does your daughter Jett inspire you?
The biggest thing for her is that she makes sure I’m dreaming again. The stories and experiences I have with her are the things I turn into stories. I get to be around more kids; I get to witness a lot more things.
Do you think she has the biggest input on your books?
Besides my wife, she has the biggest input on my life. Period. Everything I do. She’s my why.
How important was reading to you when you were a kid?
I loved to read. We’d be talking about from Walter Dean Myers with Slam, Scorpions; to Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Harry Potter series was colossal, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, so many different books. Growing up, reading was awesome because we didn’t get to go on a lot of vacations where I’m from, so sometimes I’d only get to visit places through books.
I’ve been reading books by Tim Green and Derek Jeter. Would you ever think of writing books for older kids, like chapter books?
I know Tim Green; he’s my friend. Yes, I do plan on writing chapter books for older kids. I’ve got lots of stuff that’s underneath these sleeves I haven’t revealed yet. I’m just getting started.
What was the most challenging part of writing your book Hey A.J., It’s Saturday?
The writing part was the easiest part. The hardest part was turning it into a book. I just thought you could go, Here you go, here’s my book, but it doesn’t work like that. You’ve got the paper, you’ve got to find someone to print, you’ve got to call someone in Hong Kong, there’s a language barrier. I think the secondary process to bring it all to fruition was the biggest thing.
You have a new book coming out this summer. What’s it called? What’s it about?
I have a comic book coming out for older kids, and it’s called Towel Boy, and it’s about this kid named Buzz. He plays sports, and he doesn’t make the team, but he discovers something pretty awesome. Does that intrigue you? I was trying to tell you without telling you too much.
Was it easier to write your first book or your second book?
Well, actually this wasn’t the first book that I’ve written. I wrote another book about seven years ago called The Wannabees. I wrote that one in two hours, but I was in the zone. Like, I’m going to write this book, and it just hit me. I had this idea, I wrote it, and BAM! But then the second book is always harder than the first, and the next one is harder; it gets harder as you go. Because now you understand more about the characters, so you want to make sure you put them in the right elements and the mood is right, and how they move and stuff. The first one, you’re just discovering your characters, so I don’t really know them that well. You just kind of write them out, and they grow and grow and grow. You’ve got to keep them in that personality because the reader knows them, and they can see how they move and how they act.
You have a cartoon. Do you have any other ideas for animated features?
Yes, I have a new animated series for AJ that I’m finishing up now. Then I have a couple of other cartoon things I’m working on with some major people. Good stuff, funny stuff, fun stuff, adventures. Let’s go. Where do you want to be?
O.K., so now related to football. What was the biggest difference going from Jay Cutler as your quarterback while playing for the Bears to Tom Brady?
I think the biggest difference was probably that you knew that Tom had won so many Super Bowls, so he has a different vibe. He has been in those situations and won those big games, so I think that’s the biggest thing. Jay didn’t really get the chance to play in those games or those moments that you knew Tom had. Tom’s ice cold in those situations, so you trusted him a lot in those moments.
What do you think will be the biggest difference going from the Patriots to the Packers organization?
Colors of my jersey?
How did you decide on the Packers out of every team?
It wasn’t every team; I wish it was every team. I’m not that popular out there. It was closer to home. I still live in Chicago; it’s like three hours from my house. Aaron Rodgers is awesome, and the Packers are a really good organization. I played against them for three years when I played for the Bears, so I knew what they represented and who they were. I just want to be part of a winning organization, because winning is contagious, and once you win, it’s hard to go back to losing.
What’s the hardest thing about joining a new team?
It’s like switching schools. You have to meet new friends, new people. All the people who are new, getting to know those people, getting them to trust you with everything that you do. You have to reestablish yourself as a trustworthy teammate and friend.
What was your favorite moment about winning the Super Bowl?
The end, when we won. Yeah, this is over, we did it! At first, I was like, Wait, did we win? Because I thought the other team would get a chance to score too, after we scored. So when we scored, I stood up. I was tired as heck. I was like [gasp, gasp] because I played, like, a hundred plays, and we scored, and I turn around and I was like, Did we win? I saw people running around and people running on the field. It was like, That’s it? We won? That was the best moment. And then seeing my family—my brothers and sisters on the field, that was the best part. My daughter, my wife—the celebration was the best part.
Was there a standout funny moment or story from the Super Bowl?
One of the standout moments was when we were getting our butts kicked at halftime and we go back into the locker room. Most of the time, people are throwing chairs, taking papers and throwing them at each other, and all that. We came in and no one did that. We just sat down. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and some oranges and some other fruit, try to rehydrate. I switched shirts and I switched socks because I don’t like sweaty socks. I always switch socks at halftime; it’s a pet peeve of mine. I switched my shoes. We were sweating so much. And the Super Bowl jerseys were a little bit tighter, so we all looked fat. They made new jerseys, and they only made one. It didn’t really fit you right; it’s a little uncomfortable, so I took off the shoulder pads. All I remember is looking around the locker room, and everybody’s in there and you’re seeing belief in everyone’s eyes, there’s not doubt in anyone’s eyes. And that was really cool. I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms. Right before we left, only thing we said was, Well, this one’s for the history books. Let’s go make history, and that’s what we did.
When you were a kid…
I’m still a kid.
…you played basketball and football. What made you want to play football for the rest of your life, and not basketball?
That’s tough. I think it chose me. I played both in college as well. I was in the NBA draft out of high school. And I was going to go straight to the NBA and skip college, but my mom wanted me to go to college. Well, you end up being an O.K. student playing both sports because there’s just so much time, so I had to pick one. And I ended up picking football. My brother [Michael, who now plays for the Seahawks], played football too. We played together, and we were roommates.
When you were a kid, what sports did you play with your brother?
Not when I was a kid. I am still a kid. Besides football? Tennis. I was actually a really good tennis person. But we just had an advantage because we were just so much longer and bigger than everybody. Just smashed everything—AAARHH! So we did tennis, we did basketball, we did soccer, we did baseball, we did football, we played street hockey—we pretty much did every single thing. I used to BMX, which is more dangerous than football. My mom made me stop. I did a backflip on a bike one time, and I didn’t make it. I slid and I scraped my whole chest up. But I got back up and got back on that bike and I tried again.
Did you ever dream you would be in the NFL with your brother?
We set goals. We kind of knew that’s what we were going to do. We worked out together and we pushed each other. We drove each other to become who we are today, and we still do that to this moment. So we kind of knew that this was something that we were going to do.
What makes you look up to your brother?
The father that he is, and the family member that he is—because he’s a lot better family member than I am. The best thing about him is when your brother is someone you can count on in all phases of life, not just football or basketball, but the man that he is, the brother that he is, which is huge. Great dude. I always looked up to him. He’s like the TV big brother—like if they wrote a TV show, and they made this awesome big brother, they would cast him in that role.
We’ve got a Shirley Temple. Do you want a Shirley Temple? Do you want one right now? This is my favorite drink!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photographs by Zach Harwayne (2, at Macy’s); Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images (Super Bowl LI)