An open letter to Doug Baldwin

Doug Baldwin basks in Seattle fans' adoration after winning the Super Bowl. (Photo from Flickr by Jeff)
Doug Baldwin basks in Seattle fans’ adoration after winning the Super Bowl. (Photo from Flickr by Jeff)

Good game bro. The touchdown catch at the end was clutch. Hopefully we can keep this momentum going for the rest of the season.

But I’m a little unclear as to what happened during the pre-game on Sunday.

The build up to the game gave a lot people the impression that you all were planning on protesting the national anthem, especially considering your tweets earlier in the week.

I’m sure you heard how quickly word spread around the town. So much so that the Mayor of DuPont cancelled their city’s Seahawks rally.

I can assure you, despite the potential backlash that you and the team most definitely would have incurred from a good portion of the country, there were plenty of us more than willing to support, bro. We would have had your back through and through.

It’s a difficult time for everyone in America right now and taking such a defiant stance on a national stage would have certainly ruffled more than a few feathers. I’m sure you heard what happened with Brandon Marshall and how he’s losing endorsements because of his decision to kneel.

When I play out the hypothetical scenario where you actually did kneel as a team during the anthem, I imagine that there would have been so many white people fragile from their privilege who would have experienced the jarring reality that their beloved Seahawks were not mere objects of their ownership, but rather autonomous human beings that have their own opinions, perspectives, and concerns.

White America has the tendency to use sports as a way of escape from the horrors of our country.

It would have demonstrated to so many people that you all are more than just world-class athletes whose only purpose is to win football games for Seattle.

White America has the tendency to use sports as a way of escape from the horrors of our country. It’s the respite from the news of another Black person dying at the hands of the police, another war being waged in another region of the world, and another corrupt politician getting away with breaking the law.

Many people of color do the same. The only difference is that, despite the escape for a few hours into sports, when they return there is no privilege to protect them from the harshness of our country.

In my mind’s eye, I see if you all would have gone through with it, it would have been something akin to SNL’s skit, “The Day Beyoncé turned Black.” It would have destroyed this fantasy that their precious football team was virginally pure from the racialized politics of America.

The reality is many of the Seahawks players are Black men who, in any other context, some fans would be too fearful to walk past on the street — or who they would have demonized if they had a fatal run in with the police.

A demonstration that prioritizes keeping white people comfortable isn’t going to bring about true unity that’s actually felt by everyone.

I understand how it could might have looked, protesting during the national anthem on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I get that the backlash would have been stinging. The virulent racism heaped upon the players that have been taking knees have been serious. It’s a potentially dangerous situation. It may not be what you all signed up for, or something that you want any part of.

I get that. Not everyone wants to get involved in politics. However, that doesn’t absolve them for the impact from political decisions.

Kneeling during the anthem may not be everyone’s style. It could be interpreted as disrespectful. But if we are talking about disrespecting the flag, let’s not cherry pick. In all honesty, what I find is leaps and bounds more disrespectful to the flag and the military is not a football player choosing to participate in a symbolic protest. It’s the veterans that are homeless after going off to risk their lives fighting in a war waged for the ruling class. It’s the veterans wrestling with PTSD, depression, and thoughts of suicide that are not getting the necessary help now that they are back home. These people can risk their lives for the country but as soon as they return they are forgotten and ignored.

Maybe you all didn’t ask to be in this leadership role, but nonetheless it’s been placed on your mantle.

After the cat was out of the bag and the plans for a “demonstration of unity” was revealed, I couldn’t help but think about all of the young Brown and Black kids that look up to you all and see themselves in you. This was the perfect opportunity to validate their experience. All of the racism they face out in their community — maybe they’re not able to articulate just yet, but they fell themselves in the clutch of its merciless talons.

The entire “demonstration of unity” really felt just like a different way of saying “all lives matter.”

I’m talking about kids from the Central District. White Center. The South End. Beacon Hill. Chinatown. They may not have enough money to purchase season tickets or sit in the luxury boxes being fed like royalty. But they do have the same experiences as many of you — being a Brown and Black person in America.

What would Marshawn have done if he were still on the team? What about Jeremy Lane — what did he think?

To be frank, the entire “demonstration of unity” really felt just like a different way of saying “all lives matter.” It felt like a form of silencing.

Instead of addressing the epidemic of police brutality and the ongoing oppression of people of color, this show of unity revealed a lot about where you all stand in this conversation. It provided ammunition to people unwilling to acknowledge that privilege exists and that disparities based on of race are still prevalent in 2016.

It’s a bit disappointing because brother, that’s being on the wrong side of history. If this was 50 years ago, the same people saying “all lives matter” today would be the same people feverishly resisting integration and obstructing Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.

There’s still a lot of football to be played and the season is just kicking off. I’m holding onto hope that maybe you all wanted to avoid any protest because of the date.

There’s still plenty of opportunities to make your voices heard. As I’m sure you’re already aware of, there’s a lot of people looking up to you.

Peace,

John from Lakewood

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14 Comments

  1. I find it patronizing that John, who is Filipino American, is trying to tell an adult black man what’s best for him. And calling him “bro?” He’s a Stanford graduate- what other African-American stereotypes are inside that head of yours?

    1. John is not telling DB what is best for him. Rather, he’s simply giving his analysis on the Seahawk’s “protest” and explaining how their decision has been felt within the communities of people of color.

      As for the word “bro..” This is a term of endearment that is synonymous with “friend,” or “buddy.” I suppose it’s most commonly used by younger generations. I can understand why you would find that disrespectful, but in this case, it is used to make the open letter less formal and more of a discussion between peers.

      1. I think everyone knows what “bro” means, but it’s ill-judged, like much of the rest of the text, given it implies Baldwin must be spoken to like he’s a rap video stereotype just because he’s an African American. It’s supposed to say “hey, Doug, I’m not white either, I’m just like you!” but in fact it comes across as deeply patronising – much like the suggestion that “people of color” can’t have any privilege if they aren’t white: as in the line that when they return from a game “there is no privilege to protect them from the harshness of our country”.

        That’s an incredibly naive and overly simplistic take on how society actually functions. The idea a rich Asian American male who runs his own business and lives in a massive house on Lake Washington can be put on a level with a poor African American girl with no job who lives on the streets is one of the biggest problems in this entire debate. Instead of playing one form of identity politics off against another, or sitting on the sidelines protesting for the sake of it, we need a holistic view of the problem that puts equality of opportunity for everyone as the goal. In this case he’s criticizing the Seahawks for doing something that’s far more constructive than a mere protest and implicitly suggesting Baldwin, who has said far more intelligent things on this debate than most others, is some kind of sellout for going along with it.

        And that is absolutely the subtext to this article: hey bro, I expected better from you, get in line or you’re part of the problem. It’s couched in meaningless niceties to make it seem palatable, but that doesn’t make the core message any better. Baldwin is one of the most articulate, intelligent people in the sport as far as I’m concerned and he can make his own decisions. He’s about ten steps further along in this debate than the author of this piece so I think he’d be entitled to say thanks for the advice, but kindly go grandstand at someone else.

  2. It’s the Seahawk’s way of protesting, do we have to cherry pick the right way to protest? People won’t like Kaepernick kneeling, and now people won’t like the Seahawks for displacing their symbol of unity? To truly protest, you must shed light upon the issue but the most important part is WHAT ACTION you take to help and solve problems. Doug stated the actions he and his team are willing to take in order to make that difference and help and unite our communities.

  3. The Seahawks pussied out with that weak ass protest shows they do shit for the masses I don’t think lynch would have had anything to do with this cowardly move

  4. Sitting down during playing of National Anthem is dishonor to people who fought and died to keep flag flying. It is not a way to protest, There are other ways to protest like marching, helping build black communities and being big brother/sister to black teenagers in Chicago or anywhere..

  5. JUST A REMINDER: The author of this piece ISN’T murdering black people. Cops are. Those who are criticizing him are missing the point exactly and the Seattle Police Department THANK YOU for supporting them during this difficult time.

    The Seahawks proved to me what they are on Sunday: porch football players entertaining their white owners.

  6. Let’s also keep in mind this expression of support for racist cops comes at a time in Seattle when THE SEATTLE POLICE DEPARTMENT REFUSES TO COMPLY WITH FEDERALLY-MANDATED REFORMS TO STOP THEM FROM KILLING AND ABUSING BLACK PEOPLE.

    #BLACKLIVESMATTER. The Seahawks don’t.

  7. This is an absolutely terrible and presumptuous attempt at journalism. Go back to school. You should be ashamed of such mudslinging.

  8. The Seahawks Bridge To Nowhere
    by Dave Zirin

    https://www.thenation.com/article/the-seattle-seahawks-national-anthem-stunt-looked-more-like-a-united-way-commercial-than-a-protest/

    There is a core of players on the Seattle Seahawks who have been uniquely outspoken in recent years. They are the leading exemplars of the “new political athlete,” unafraid to speak out on hot-button issues related to race, labor, and the elections. This is the team of cornerback Richard Sherman, who has challenged media stereotyping of black athletes and the exploitation of the NCAA. This is the team of defensive end Michael Bennett, who sported his Bernie Sanders hat to practice and publicly—as well as respectfully—argued with Sherman in dueling press conferences about the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. This is the team of receiver Doug Baldwin, who has been pushing for players to speak up about racial inequity.

    One can imagine this small crew of Seahawks seeing the attention garnered by Colin Kaepernick’s anthem protests against police violence, and immediately trying to amplify his message. Instead, Seahawks management has steered this desire by the team to do something into safe avenues that have little in common with Kaepernick’s call for justice.

    The hijacking of the Seahawks’ desire to act started when Doug Baldwin spoke early last week about plans for a team-wide demonstration during the anthem. There was one problem. Players with ties “close to the military,” as the NFL Network put it, didn’t want any part of it. At that point, the team really should have decided that players who wanted to kneel would kneel and left it at that. Instead, it wound up with a team-building exercise where players linked arms with their coaches to showcase ”team unity,” “honoring the country,” and “building a bridge”—or, as Damon Young acidly wrote in GQ:

    They…linked arms. Because unity and freedom and ketchup or something.

    Basically, they pulled a fast one on us. And by “pulled a fast one on us” I mean “pulled some #AllLivesMatter placards out of their collective asses, and passed them out to the crowd.”

    Then, on Monday, the corporate rollout began. An article was posted on the team Web site called “Seahawks Hope To Build A Bridge With Follow Through.” This is the team’s mission statement about how it is going to effect change.

    The piece starts by hitting all the right notes. It immediately connects the team-sanctioned plan with Kaepernick, writing, “The Seahawks, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other players and teams around the league have gotten people’s attention with pregame demonstrations, now their goal is to follow through with action and meaningful conversation.” It mentions that Richard Sherman spoke to legendary sports sociologist Dr. Harry Edwards about the need to “do something.”

    Doug Baldwin also quotes Harry Edwards. “He said the difference between a mob and a movement is a follow through.”

    This all sounds great, except… follow through to what? A bridge to what? What “actions and meaningful conversations” are being proposed? According to the team Web site, the goal is to “bring together local law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve,” and “meet with Seattle mayor Ed Murray, as well as police chiefs from departments around the state.”

    Michael Bennett is quoted as saying:

    “For us, we want to be able to build that bridge. The things that we already do in the community—it’s not like we just started doing this, a lot of us have foundations, a lot of us are working in the community—but what we want to do is work well with the people all around.”

    Here is where we get the steering of Kaepernick’s call for justice into a call for service, a call for foundation work, and a call to dialogue with the police. It’s a call to do the same kind of camera-friendly community engagement that athletes have been doing since Babe Ruth was handing baseballs to sick kids in the hospital.

    The part of the article that “gives the game away” takes place when it ends with aggressively image-conscious quarterback Russell Wilson saying:

    “If we can change the heart of one person, and let that person change somebody else’s heart and soul and viewpoint, and understand to respect, and learn more about other people and build that bridge like we talked about, that’s what it takes to help the world.”

    This is the same Russell Wilson who was one of the first people to throw Kaepernick under the bus, and link his stance to disrespecting the military, even though Kaepernick had been explicit in saying otherwise. Back in August, Wilson said:

    “I understand what he’s doing. For me, I love the flag. I love the National Anthem because it’s an emotional time for me because I’m so grateful I get to play on the football field. And every time I get to put my hand on my heart, it’s truly in honor of the military. For me, I think about my family members who have served.”

    This opened the door for the entire “Colin Kaepernick hates the troops” narrative. Any bridge built by Russell Wilson is not going to lead to a place that talks about why the police officer who killed Eric Garner is back to work with a raise, or why our justice system makes getting accountability for a police killing next to impossible.

    Yet what’s mentioned in this mission statement is less important than what isn’t mentioned. Reading it, you would never know that there are activist organizations in Seattle that work against police brutality every day and who have tried to dialogue with police, only to be stymied time and again. These groups and their years of experience have somehow been magically removed from this conversation. Groups that could certainly use the Seahawks’ money and cultural cachet, like the NAACP, the Black Student Unions, and the nascent Black Lives Matter chapters, have been rendered invisible so the team can construct its own reality, in which dialogue with police has never been tried and this team is uniquely positioned to make it work.

    And that takes us to the other element that is glaringly missing from this team mission statement: any discussion or awareness about the reality of the Seattle Police Department. To treat police like they are just misunderstood is wrong. To think that communication will make it better is dangerously naive. This department is under a federal consent decree from the Department of Justice because the DOJ found that one in four arrests violated the constitutional rights of those in custody. They are also investigating Seattle’s “excessive use of disproportionate force on people of color.” The city simmers over the killing of a young man named Che Taylor, who police said was reaching for a gun, although witnesses said otherwise. Then there was John T. Williams, a wood-carver shot dead in the street by police.

    As teacher Jesse Hagopian, who just won a brutality settlement against the police after being pepper-sprayed in the face on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, said to me, “The cops have been through countless community conversations on this, and they still pepper-sprayed me in the face and shot Che Taylor…. My advice to the Seahawks I love is not to let the police spray them in the face—either with false promises or pepper spray.”

    Fighting police violence is not a team-building exercise and it is not a corporate-branding ritual. It is something that individuals of conscience practice, ideally in concert with other activists, at great personal risk. That is what has made Colin Kaepernick’s stance so electric. He’s calling for justice, not peace. He is risking and earning the hatred of the worst sports announcers and Internet bigots across the country. He is also inspiring people to take a stand and force management to either offer lukewarm praise, or get out of the way. The last thing needed is the “good athlete/bad athlete” template that you know is coming so the media can say, “Look at the Seahawks! They do it the right way! Why can’t Kaepernick be more like them?”

    If the Seahawks think that community service in meetings with police officers is the way to go, they should be honest about the fact that this is not a continuation of what Colin Kaepernick is trying to do but a break from it. Team unity forged on corporate ground will not last, because the world isn’t stopping.

    Doug Baldwin’s Twitter feed is instructive. Yesterday, Baldwin, after weeks of tweeting about police brutality, handed out an award to a Seattle police officer for community building. Several hours later he was back on Twitter, tweeting out the story that a Los Angeles County sheriff just killed an unarmed man who happened to be white. Baldwin wrote, “Changes have to and WILL be made!” Someone get this man a movement against police violence, because right now he is trapped in a team-branded United Way commercial.

    Until 2016, the Seahawks was the team of iconic running back Marshawn Lynch, who in addition to being outspoken was also never shy about calling out the bullshit in his own organization. I know this is just a theory, but it feels like the absence of Lynch has created a Voltron of athletes who want to come together and say something about these killings, but just can’t organize independently of their team. They are Voltron without the heart.

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