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Doug Baldwin: new anthem policy highlights ‘tone-deafness’ between NFL and players

Seahawks HC Pete Carroll hinted at a return for WR Doug Baldwin (knee) this Sunday against the Cardinals. (AP)

The NFL Wednesday announced a new league policy that would penalize players who kneel during the anthem, offering instead that players who choose to protest remain in the locker room. The policy, proposed and passed by NFL owners, has received a considerable amount of criticism.

Among those disappointed with the policy is Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin. Baldwin has been at the forefront of community outreach and social justice programs both in the Seattle and in the NFL community (he even co-issued a letter with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that advocated for criminal justice reform). It’s Baldwin’s ongoing work with the league that has left him feeling frustrated with the relationship between its executives and players.

“I mean, I’m not surprised,” Baldwin said of the anthem rule during an interview with Bob, Groz and Tom on 710 ESPN Seattle. “The NFL cares about one thing and that’s the NFL; the NFL’s bottom line. And I might be privy to some different information because I’ve been in conversation with Roger Goodell, and Troy Vincent, and the leadership of the NFL in regards to the Players’ Coalition and what we’re trying to get out of that. Honestly I’m not surprised. I’m disappointed, I will say that. Because the conversations that I’ve had with Roger, that I’ve had with Troy Vincent, these guys … you really put your heart out there and say, ‘Look, we’re trying to do something good for the communities that we represent, that represent us.’ And it just felt like, again, there was a lack of understanding. And to me, this just further punctuates the tone-deafness or the disconnect between the NFL and its players.”

Here are a few other notes from Baldwin’s interview:

On his work in community engagement and advocacy, and his path toward better reaching social justice goals: “Honestly I think the biggest takeaway from all the meetings, from all the conversations, from all the research, is there is just a huge lack of empathy within the human race. It really makes me upset. It really disappoints me when I see the things that are going on in our society, the things that are going on in our communities, whether it be mass shootings in schools or harassment between law enforcement and community members, and community members and law enforcement. From the mindset that capitalism infuses into our culture in terms of greed and ‘more is better’ instead of just being happy with what you have and grateful for what you have. It really upsets me that we don’t have more empathy for each other and for the struggles that we all go through.

“As an African-American male, being the only African-American male in this room, I’ve gone through experiences that you guys don’t have the privileged of experiencing. And I say privileged, but you just don’t have that knowledge, that information. And there’s things that you guys go through that I don’t have the knowledge of. And for whatever reason we can’t accept that as the truth. It’s like, ‘No no no no, I know what you guys go through, I’ve dealt with it as a black male, I know what it is to be a white male.’ It’s just not true. Why is it so difficult for us to come together and say, ‘You know what? There’s things that I can learn from you’? I don’t know how some of these social activists of the past did it. For Martin Luther King Jr. to do what he did during the time in which he did it.”

Is there hope? “This is why I have hope: I’ve been in over one hundred different meetings with law enforcement, political figures, community members … and I was talking to a law enforcement officer not too long ago. We were in a group of about six of us and this was the third meeting that we had. And in the initial meeting he told me he had season tickets and he was going to sell them because he was just disappointed about what was going on in the NFL. And I just basically gave him the perspective from an African-American male who plays football. And I gave him this analogy, I said, ‘Look, every day that you put on that uniform and you go out on the street, you get treated differently. Whether it be that you get respect or you get disrespect, you get treated differently than when you’re out of that uniform.’ He’s like yeah absolutely. I said, ‘But imagine me going down the street in that uniform and never being able to take off that uniform.’ I said, ‘The difference is you go home at night, you take off that uniform, you put it on a hanger and you put it back up into your closet. This dark skin of mine, I don’t get to take it off. So I know you come to a football game and you want to experience the joy and the excitement of the game, and you want to escape from reality for a little bit, for three hours whatever it is. But as an African-American male in this country, we don’t get to escape from the reality that is our lives. And if I wasn’t Doug Baldwin, if I was in some state or some city where they didn’t recognize me, I’m still just a black male. And I won’t get the benefit of the doubt that a white male will get when he’s walking down the street.’ And this officer came back after our third meeting and he said you know you really taught me some things and made me think about things differently. He said, ‘You know, I can’t say that I’m fully there yet. But I’m not going to sell your tickets. I support what you’re preaching here.’ And that gave me hope. He was able to take a step back and really put himself in my shoes and be empathetic. And I think again, that’s what we’re missing in this entire conversation.”

Did the media do a poor job of communicating what the player protests were about? “Yeah, and I think again it goes back to my point that there was just a lack of empathy, instead of disregarding your own emotions for a second. These guys are taking a knee, they’re sitting down or taking a knee, raising a fist whatever it may be. As individuals watching the game, you’re not in any threat. There’s no threat to your life. So there’s no reason for you to get extra emotional in this regard without taking a step back to understand why these individuals are taking a knee or sitting down or raising a fist. And again, it was a lack of empathy. If we had more of that, in my opinion, I think people would understand we’re not trying to be disrespectful to the country. We’re actually saying that, ‘Look, this flag stands for liberty and justice for all.’ That’s why I love this flag. I am a patriot. But if I’m going to say that this flag stands for this, then I’m going to make sure that it’s accountable to what it says it stands for. There’s somebody I have to hold accountable to it. If I didn’t hold accountable to it, if I didn’t have a say, if you tell me that I can’t say it, then I’m not living in a democracy. Again, what are we fighting for? I’m fighting for you to be heard, I’m fighting for us to be empathetic, for the understanding to be there, and for us to live on this earth as human beings together cohesively.”

On the disconnect between the league and its players when it comes to social justice causes and charities: “We’re going through this negotiation with the NFL about certain causes, certain initiatives that we want to support as players, that mean something to us. And the NFL just doesn’t get it because the initiatives that they wanted to support didn’t represent the African-American males that were in the locker room. One example: the Anti-Defamation League. I have nothing against Jewish people, nothing at all. But the majority of the people in the locker room are not Jewish. So if you’re going to tell us that this is an initiative that we’re going to support, ‘you players, you’re going to support it,’ don’t bring us the Anti-Defamation League. That doesn’t represent us. That’s not a representation of the locker room. And that’s stuff that we had to fight with the NFL. And I’m telling the NFL, you guys don’t have a department that’s running through and measuring the KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) of these organizations that are making an impact on a grassroots level, of trying to do the changes that we all want to see. You’re not measuring that. You don’t have a department that’s taking care of that. But the players, on the other hand, have been doing that for several years now; have been researching, gathering this information and trying to make sure that the impacts that we want to see happen are actually happening. But the NFL in some ways thinks that they know better than we do.

“And I get it, it’s a business, you’ve got to protect your shield. But at the end of the day you’re dealing with real people who have real emotions, real concerns, and who, when they want to make change, are going to do everything they can to make the change. And the NFL has this huge resource of players who are doing that and they’re not really tapping into it. Again, it’s more of a PR move, to me, than anything. It’s not really trying to get to the gist of it. And I’ll leave you guys with this: if the NFL really did care about any of the initiatives that they cared about, they would demonstrate the KPIs, the measurements that they’re making, the impacts that they’re making. Breast cancer awareness. Tell me, NFL, what impact has the NFL made on breast cancer awareness, on breast cancer medical research? What impact has the NFL made in that regard? Since we do all this for breast cancer awareness, right? Those things matter. It can’t just be a PR move, you can’t just be putting this board up there seaying we do this. But really what are you doing? You’re just making yourself look good. That’s my issue with it, is that this is more of a PR move. I don’t really think they ever did care about the initiatives or the things the players cared about. It’s again about their bottom line.”