Sports as a social and political platform have grown exponentially the past few years. But T-shirts and protests don’t often yield results; some would say they have broadened the political divide. The Seahawks’ Doug Baldwin, however, is uniquely equipped to create real change.
Imagine, for a second, a different kind of fantasy draft. It would take place in a league where points aren’t based on how players perform between the lines, but how they effect change outside of them.
You can choose from any sport in America, and to add a little spice, coaches and executives are available as well.
So who are you taking at No. 1? Which sports figure do you see having the most concrete influence on progress in this country?
There is plenty of talent to choose from, but I’m going with Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin. No need to even put me on the clock.
Sports as a social and political platform have grown exponentially the past few years. From NBA players donning “I can’t breathe” T-shirts, to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, to coaches such as the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich skewering President Donald Trump — comments on race and brutality are every bit as common as those on rebounding and pass protection.
But T-shirts, protests and comments alone don’t necessarily yield results. In fact, some would say they have broadened the political divide that plagues our nation.
But Baldwin offers a unique package equipped to create tangible change for the better. Really — just look at the scouting report:
1. He has unmatched credentials
Forget that Baldwin is a Super Bowl-winning, Pro Bowl-playing Stanford grad who once led the NFL in touchdown catches. Disregard that such a resume gives him a profile that 95 percent of his peers will never have.
Race and police violence are the primary factors fueling these protests, whose detractors feel are disrespecting cops and the military. But Doug? Doug is the black son of a man who served 35 years as a police officer, and the grandson of a man who spent 26 years in the Air Force.
Everyone has the right to question or criticize these pregame demonstrations. Both sides have valid arguments. But questioning Baldwin’s credibility on the subject is downright ignorant.
Six days after a white police officer in Tulsa, Okla., shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed 40-year-old black man, Doug called on all 50 state attorneys general to review their police-officer-training policies and put a higher emphasis on de-escalation tactics.
This could have sounded incredibly arrogant coming from most other players. But Baldwin’s background gives him an unrivaled perspective.
2. He embodies unity
It should be noted that Baldwin has always stood during the national anthem with his head bowed in prayer. It also should be noted that he has been high-fiving protesting teammates before the anthem plays.
He gets why they do it. He knows controversy often is the best way to start a dialogue. And there’s not a demonstrator on that bench who doesn’t feel his support.
What’s the biggest difference between Doug now vs. a couple years ago? I asked Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark, who has sat during the anthem for much of the season.
“He’s more understanding,” Clark said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Added receiver Tyler Lockett, who stands during the anthem: “He listens a lot more. He wants to hear people’s points.”
Baldwin agrees wholeheartedly. He said his idea of listening used to be waiting for others to finish talking so he could chime in. Now, his eardrums are much more receptive. But not just to teammates — to about everyone in the state of Washington.
During an interview with NPR that aired Tuesday, Baldwin revealed a two-page list of organizations and individuals he’d met with over the past year or so. Whether it be sitting down with police officers, mayors, attorneys general, state representatives, members of the Hispanic community or body-camera technology companies, Doug hasn’t spared a second of his spare time.
The goal of the meetings is “to learn the complexity of the issues themselves” so he can find “where the holes are” and “try to figure out solutions.” And though he admits he doesn’t have the all the answers, he does have a takeaway.
“There is a process of being empathetic, listening to other sides, other opinions, other viewpoints,” Baldwin said. “Not so that you can come up with an answer, but so that you can be empathetic to the problems that are out there.”
Most people make up their minds on these issues in about 60 seconds. Baldwin has been at it for about 60 weeks.
But this isn’t just Kumbaya fluff he’s throwing out for a sound bite. Not even close.
3. He has taken concrete action
On the day the Seahawks locked arms during the anthem in Week 1 of last season, Baldwin asserted that “the difference between a mob and a movement is follow-through.” And as mentioned earlier, Baldwin has long been committed to providing cops with more resources.
Well, late last month, Seahawks players announced the start of the Players Equality and Justice for All Action fund, in which the goal is to “support education and leadership programs addressing equality and justice.”
The fund is believed to be the first of its kind in the NFL, and Baldwin — a principal player in creating it — said a portion of the money will go to police in Washington in hopes of reforming training methods and de-escalation tactics.
On Tuesday, Baldwin and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell co-signed a letter to congressional leaders, which offered the league’s “full support” of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017. The bill would reduce the enhanced penalties for repeated non-violent drug offenders and eliminate the three-strike mandatory life provision.
How important was it to get the league involved in the letter? Baldwin was asked.
“It’s a huge step,” he said. “Obviously this has been a divisive topic by nature, just because you have a lot of divisive rhetoric coming from different angles. But this opportunity has given us the ability to unify the NFL community.”
You don’t have to agree with Doug Baldwin. In fact, he would welcome a disagreement.
But given how much time he has spent absorbing other perspectives this past year, the least you could do is hear him out.
Baldwin is a hell of a speaker, but listening has become his true gift. That’s why he’s my top pick — and he’s a steal at No. 1.