Doug Baldwin in raucous Seahawks’ locker room on his team’s latest huge rally, past Carolina
This is just an end for Doug Baldwin.
Not the end.
That’s the feeling which will last beyond the suddenness and the nostalgia of the Seahawks terminating the contract of the unique, second-best wide receiver in their history on Thursday. The only team Baldwin ever knew in the NFL did it so he can collect up to $1.2 million in injury money on his way to retirement.
It’s the end of his football career, yes. Seattle waived Baldwin with a failed-physical designation weeks after he told general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll he was strongly considering retirement. The move came a month after Baldwin’s third surgery of this offseason. A repair for a sports hernia followed operations on his knee and shoulder.
Still just 30 years old, Baldwin has far more to accomplish, far more important and impacting work to do and continue, than football.
With his common sense and decency toward those less represented in our society, it’s not out of the question that Baldwin may have politics as his next career choice.
Over the last eight years Baldwin became the most fascinating Seahawk, and one of Seattle’s most fascinating athletes.
We watched him mature inside and outside the Seahawks’ locker room. He entered it in 2011 fiery and brash, with a chip on his shoulder from being doubted. First doubted while on Stanford’s bench clashing with coach Jim Harbaugh. Then, by the NFL and at first pehaps by the Seahawks themselves (after all, they didn’t brother to draft him).
From day one of Seattle’s rookie minicamp eight years ago, when he was an undrafted rookie free agent trying to make the Seahawks with any job on any special-teams unit, into his ascension in the Seahawks’ offense and the NFL, Baldwin seethed and often scowled.
Minutes after the Seahawks rallied from down 16-0 in the second half to beat Green Bay in overtime to win the NFC championship game in January 2015, Baldwin came back out from the locker room. He loudly ripped into the two-dozen or so reporters crammed into a short, small hallway waiting to go inside for interviews.
“Are you ready for this? Are you?!!!” Baldwin screamed down that hallway to us, before pacing up and down among us. “How many of you doubted us? How many of you doubted us when we were 3-3? Y’all, I want you to write this down. Write this down, OK?
“When we were 3-3, everyone counted us out. Y’all didn’t believe in us. A whole bunch of people thought we weren’t going to make it. At 6-4, it was, ‘Ah, that’s OK. They have a winning record--but they aren’t going to make the playoffs.’
“At 16-0 at the half (in that NFC title game), how many of y’all counted us out? How many of y’all doubted us?”
Two weeks later, Baldwin caught a touchdown pass from Wilson in Super Bowl 49 against New England. To celebrate the score, he did this:
Then, as 20-something people tend to do, he matured. He got married. He became more nuanced. More self-assured. More concerned and dedicated to more important issues than off-color touchdown celebrations and I-told-you-sos.
All the while he remained so real.
Baldwin was absolutely refreshing inside the Seahawks’ locker room. He was the player I sought to talk about more than football. He enjoyed talking about life and society and the history of our nation as much as beating cover-two defenses and converting on third downs.
He is perhaps the most thoughtful, insightful athlete I’ve covered in 21 years of sports journalism.
He is one of the only ones who consistently paused for sometimes 15 seconds or more, considered what you asked, then gave a sincere, direct and usually unvarnished answer. Whether his teammates or coaches or team PR staffers or league was going to like the response or not.
Last summer Baldwin was named one of four finalists for the Muhammed Ali Sports Humanitarian Award. The other finalists were Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant and WWE star John Cena. The Ali award honors “their commitment and positive impact in their communities.”
I asked the longest-tenured member of the team’s offense in December—after injuries to both knees, to his shoulder, then two different groin issues caused him to miss his first games in 6 1/2 years—if the 2018 season had caused him to consider the mortality of his football career.
I had a hunch his answer would ring on months later.
And it does, especially today.
“You know...” the Pro Bowl wide receiver said before one of his thoughtfully long pauses, “you go through the process, you go through the processes of feeling immortal when you are younger. I think we all go through that process, then contemplating where you take this.
“Then when things start to change and priorities outside of football change and life changes, you start to think about things in a different picture.
“Football is such a small sliver of your lifetime.”
Even after having the second-most touchdown catches over a career in team history (behind only Hall of Famer Steve Largent), the third-most receptions (Largent and Brian Blades), after helping lead Seattle to its only Super Bowl championship in February 2014 and becoming the NFL’s best and most clutch slot receivers in this decade, football is this small a sliver of Baldwin’s life:
For the past three years the Stanford graduate (his degree is in science and technology in society) has lobbied Congress to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for low-level crimes. The son of a career law-enforcement officer while growing up in the Florida panhandle city of Gulf Breeze testified at the Washington State Capitol for police-reform legislation. He’s been seeking to change the training and policies for the use of deadly force in his team’s home state.
He’s met with law-enforcement officials and community leaders from across the Pacific Northwest on deescalation methods police officers can use to help prevent needless killings in confrontations. He’s
met with Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson about these and other issues, as well.
He’s already been involved in politics at our nation’s highest levels of government.
In October 2017, in the middle of his sixth season with the Seahawks, Baldwin wrote a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and three of Grassley’s congressional colleagues. The letter began: “We are writing to offer the National Football League’s full support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917).”
The bipartisan bills sought to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders, eliminate “three-strike” provisions that require life sentences and give judges more leeway to reduce sentences for certain low-level crimes.
Baldwin so eloquently and passionately outlined his reasons for changing the sentencing in our nation’s criminal justice system, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell basically co-opted Baldwin’s ideas and co-signed the letter.
That 2017 season was when Seahawks teammate Michael Bennett joined former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in making a social statement during national anthems before games. From the first preseason game through the end of that season Bennett sat on the team bench along the sideline during the anthem, to protest treatment of minorities in America.
National controversy raged on that season over Bennett’s and others’ anthem statements, for the acts themselves, and ignored the players’ reasons and causes for doing them. Some owners such as Dallas’ Jerry Jones vowed no Cowboys player would ever do that and remain with the team. In the middle of all that, and of the Seahawks’ season, Baldwin wrote a memorandum to the league’s owners. Goodell quoted it in the letter to Congress on sentencing reform.
“(This is about) doing the right thing for the right reasons...” Baldwin’s memo to owners stated.
“Love and empathy are more important attributes than a forty time or route-running ability...
“Yearning for justice and equality is something that all humankind can understand.”
That same fall of 2017 Baldwin announced the Seahawks’ players had started an action fund to help pay for that new police training, and for education opportunities for minorities.
He used his weekly press conferences over the last couple seasons to quote the U.S. Constitution, the Department of Justice and Martin Luther King Jr. along with how he and Russell Wilson were connecting with passes on the field.
Early last September reporters and cameras gathered as they always do on Wednesday during the season, just over noon in the main auditorium of Seahawks headquarters for weekly press conferences. First, as always, coach Pete Carroll to talk about the game that weekend. Then Baldwin.
But instead of talking about the Denver Broncos and Seattle’s 2018 opener, or his aching knees that had him gone from the team last preseason for what Carroll called “special treatment,” Baldwin wanted to talk about his new target to better our nation’s criminal-justice system: Fixing what he says is our country’s “antiquated” cash-bail system.
Baldwin and many others believe cash bail unfairly jails citizens of lower socioeconomic status for non-violent and minor offenses, simply because they don’t have money to pay standard bail.