RENTON Yes, this is a football blog about a football team in the middle of a hugely anticipated season, during the best times in the franchise’s history.
But what Doug Baldwin did and said on Thursday, one day after Richard Sherman spoke out similarly, was extraordinary. And so much more important than football.
The Seahawks’ top wide receiver used his weekly press conference to talk not about Sunday’s game against San Francisco, “blah, blah, blah,” as he put it.
The Stanford graduate and National Honor Society inductee growing up in Florida -- the son of a police and homeland security officer -- instead quoted the U.S. Constitution, the Department of Justice and Martin Luther King Jr., while he said this:
“I’m demanding that all 50 state attorney generals call for a review of their policies and training policies for police and law enforcement to eliminate militaristic cultures while putting a higher emphasis on deescalation tactics and crisis management measures.”
Thursday was six days after a white, Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed, 40-year-old black man, while responding to a report of an abandoned vehicle in a road.
Wednesday was the second consecutive night of violent protests between protestors in Charlotte, North Carolina, where its police used tear gas. That was after a black father of seven in that city was shot and killed Tuesday by police, who said he was carrying a gun. The man’s family disputes that.
“Hello. First and foremost, my health is good. Barring any setbacks I will be playing in Sunday’s game,” Baldwin began, addressing his sprained knee that got an MRI this week. “The 49ers, we know there’s new coaches, new defense, scheme, blah, blah, blah.
“I want to actually get to what I want to talk to today. Obviously we know the national attention is what’s going on in our communities and in our society right now, specifically pertaining to black people, minorities, and how they’re being treated by some members of our law enforcement across the country. You’ve seen the protests. You’ve heard the message. And now I think it’s time for us to hold each other accountable, and when I say hold each other accountable I mean to the preamble of the United States Constitution, which states, and I quote, that ‘in order to form a more perfect union, we must establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility.’
Baldwin then quoted our country’s Justice Department.
“In 2014, Tamir Rice was shot and killed,” Baldwin said. “This prompted a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, which discovered, and I quote, that ‘officers did not effectively deescalate situations either because they did not know how or did not have adequate understanding of the importance of deescalation encounters before resorting to force.’ This prompted the Ohio state attorney general to eventually call for a review of police training policies.
“This is not an isolated incident. This is not an isolated conversation. This is not isolated just to some specific parts of our country. We see that now. And the advancement of technology has proven that, from the video of Rodney King in 1991 to the numerous incidents that we now have visual evidence of today. Now this is not an indictment of our law enforcement agencies; I just want that to be clear. We know that there’s a select few — a very minute few — of law enforcement who are not abiding by those laws and policies. However, we also know that there are laws and policies that are in place that are not correcting the issue that we have in our society right now.
“So as an American, a black male in this country, I’m suggesting, calling — I’m demanding -- that all 50 state attorney generals call for a review of their policies and training policies for police and law enforcement to eliminate militaristic cultures while putting a higher emphasis on deescalation tactics and crisis management measures.
“With that being said, I believe that the greatest power we have is in our people. And with great power comes great responsibility. And I’ve said this before, and as Martin Luther King famously said that, “We must not become a culture, a society, that is more concerned with order than justice.” And I believe that if we are more concerned with order than justice, then we’ll lose both.
“That’s where I stand. That’s my statement, and now I’ll be opening up to questions.”
Later Thursday afternoon, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson responded on Twitter -- with an invitation to the Seahawks’ receiver.
“Watched your press conference today with interest. I’ll be reaching out soon to see if you'd like to sit down and chat. -BF” Ferguson posted.
After 17 years of covering many, many robots in professional sports, what Baldwin and Sherman have said in the last two days demanding action to stop police killings in our country has been so refreshing, so real.
And so needed in our society.
Say what you will about your opinion that of Baldwin -- and judging by the many who have contacted me, it will be pointed.
But the mere fact that professional athletes are so speaking out in an effort to use their fame and following to improve their world around them -- rather than insulate themselves in their multimillion contracts and relatively cushy lives -- is remarkable.
I asked Baldwin if he and fellow athletes who have spoken out, kneeled or sat during national anthems before games, have noticed a change in society since this movement began with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick last month.
“The conversation has gotten to the point where, yes, the situation that's upon us right now, what's going on in our country, it's devastating,” Baldwin said, “but now it has to reach a point of intolerable.
“We cannot tolerate this. Lives are being lost and there are questions that need to be answered and people deserve an answer and I think that's where we're at right now.”
Baldwin said he and “several” Seahawks, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett said he is one, have started initial discussions with Western Washington law-enforcement personnel in hopes of working toward a better society. Baldwin has also mentioned his intent to meet with the mayor of Seattle and law-enforcement officials from across Washington.
“We had a meeting on Tuesday, our first meeting of the Building Bridges Task Force,” Baldwin said. “I will not mention who we met with but I will just say it was a very enlightening and eye-opening meeting.”
I asked Baldwin why he has felt compelled to be out front on this issue.
“Why wouldn’t you? You’re a human being,” Baldwin said, pausing for emphasis.
“You watch that video of that man (in Tulsa) who has his hands raised up, and he’s walking back to his car. Now I don’t know all the context, but I know that man has a family. And I can’t help but put myself in that situation. The man had his hands up.
“My father’s a police officer, and he’s told me numerous times about his training and how they’ve gone through what they call ‘verbal judo,’ which is essentially them trying to deescalate the situation. From what I understand and from what he’s told me and his experience in homeland security is that that method of training is not consistent throughout the entirety of the United States. And that’s an issue.
“When you see numerous instances like this happen, and again, you don’t know all the context, but you’re asking questions. And we also know that the laws that are in place and policies that are in place that protect the law enforcement from any persecution, we understand that there’s an inherent risk that comes with being a police officer. But that should not be the case of being a citizen in the United States. There should not be an inherent risk when you have an encounter with law enforcement. There should not be a concern or worry that the law enforcement is not there to protect you. And I think that we’re raising a culture or society right now that is questioning that very sentiment.
“And so as a human being, I can’t help but sit up here and tell you how I feel and let you know that it’s not OK.”