RENTON Doug Baldwin knew his best chance to succeed in his initiatives for social and racial equality in America is to include the broader NFL community.
And to do that, he knew he had to go to the very top of America’s sports and entertainment behemoth.
The Seahawks’ top wide receiver turned his year-plus push for change in justice policies and equality across our country into a league-wide effort by asking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to co-sign his letter to Congress endorsing a criminal justice bill.
“I did,” Baldwin said Tuesday, the same day the league publicized his letter.
Baldwin spoke just after Goodell and 11 team owners met with union leadership and 13 players in New York on their concerns about racial and social equality--and on how to move past the national controversy of players sitting and kneeling during the national anthem at games.
The United States Senate’s bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 seeks 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. The bill is still with the Senate judiciary committee.
Wearing a black T-shirt with “EQUALITY.” on the front, Baldwin said before practice for Sunday’s game at the New York Giants “it was important that it wasn’t just coming from myself. I think again, the important aspect of it is us having a unified effort.
“We don’t want to be divided anymore. We don’t want to continue the divisive rhetoric. We don’t want to engage with this divisive rhetoric. We want to start showing our players, the NFL itself, our NFL community that we can be collectively united to seek the changes that we want to see, which are beneficial to the entirety of society.
“I thought it was important that we didn’t do this as individuals, but that we did it as collective group.
“We, as players, are utilizing the largest platform we have.
“So now in a search for using the largest source of resource that we have which is the NFL. The NFL has a government affairs office that does a lot of work, so being able to utilize that resource to make changes that we want to see, obviously as players an d the causes that we care so passionately about, I thought that was a step in the right direction of us unifying the NFL community and going in the right direction toward progress.”
Baldwin’s letter--he wrote most of it, then Goodell and the league signed on--to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the judiciary committee, and three of his congressional colleagues begins: “We are writing to offer the National Football League's full support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (S. 1917).”
The NFL made sure to disseminate Baldwin’s and the commissioner’s letter hours before Goodell and league owners began meetings in New York.
Baldwin is a Stanford graduate with a degree in science and technology in society. He is also the son of a career law-enforcement officer. He has met in the last year with police officials from across Washington state, and talked with Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson, to discuss the need to change how law-enforcement officers are training in use of excessive force.
Baldwin called getting the league to join his effort to Congress and beyond “a huge step, on a multitude of fronts.”
The co-signer of Baldwin’s letter to the Senate is the same Goodell whose league Baldwin mocked three years ago for its media policy and advertising deals. But to Baldwin these current issues--racial justice and police reform--is far more important across all of society and thus needs a unity of effort from the league and its players. And that effort, Baldwin knows, must start at the top.
“First and foremost, obviously being able to bring the players together for a collective effort,” he said. “We have more that are coming down right that we are working on, working towards. But also unifying the NFL community. 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.”
Last month, Baldwin announced the Seahawks’ players had started an action fund to help pay for that new police training, and for education opportunities for minorities. The team keeps prohibiting him from disclosing how much is currently in the fund--it did so again Tuesday--but Baldwin emphasized the fund contains a “significant amount” after less than 30 days of it existing.
“It’s been fantastic,” Baldwin said of the response and contributions from the team, teammates, fans and others to the action fund. “It has been unbelievable.”
Baldwin has told National Public Radio and others he has two handwritten pages, front and back, full of names of those with whom he’s met in law enforcement and among community leaders from inside and outside Washington state.
What’s he learned? Empathy.
“Learned a lot,” he said, “but the more important thing that I learned was the empathetic piece that I keep restating. Again, the reason why we met with so many people is to learn as much as we possibly could. There wasn’t a time where we had the answers, where everyone had the answers. Obviously, we still don’t. But there is a process of being empathetic, listening to other sides, other opinions, other viewpoints, and getting as much information as you can. Not so that you can come up with an answer, but so that you can be empathetic to the problems that are out there and the complexity of the situation itself.
“I think that was probably the biggest take away from all those meetings.”
Baldwin has been a national voice of resolve and reason to achieve change. He’s been talking and acting amid the intense backlash against players using the national anthem as their vehicle to make social and racial statements this season.
Those statements began with Colin Kaepernick last year when he was still the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback; he’s now unemployed. They continued with Bennett sitting during the anthem starting at Seattle’s preseason opener in mid-August.
“There is a lot of things that have gone on in our society that have shown the ability for us to progress the way that we have, if you go back to the ‘50s and the ‘60s and the Civil Rights Movement and the great progress that we have made since then,” Baldwin said. “I think the problem that I have had and that many of my fellow players have had is the lack of progress, the complacency that has set in. I think that is what you see, is just the rumbling of the opposition to that complacency.
“So for me, personally, just diving into who I am as a man, if I have the ability to say something and use my platform to seek progress for the greater good then I am going to do that. I feel compelled to do that.”