His mother, Cynthia, had a copy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech from the 1963 March on Washington hanging in the bathroom of their home in Gulf Breeze, Fla. Baldwin remembers that it was always there, but he didn’t become aware of just how significant the words were until he was 8-years old.
“I remember brushing my teeth one time and reading it. I think that’s when I kind of soaked in everything that was said in the speech, and that’s when it first hit me about the impact it had on society,” Baldwin, the Seahawks’ third-year wide receiver, said on Wednesday – the 50th anniversary of King’s address that was delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of more than 250,000 civil rights supporters in the nation’s capital.
Once Baldwin saw the speech, it only increased the impact of King’s message.
“The way that he delivered the speech, the words that he used, it definitely was ahead of its time,” he said. “And the impactfulness of the speech, it resonates with us today.”
Coach Pete Carroll shared the speech with the players in their morning meeting on Wednesday.
“You just tell the whole meeting was emotionally impacted by that, just because we know the significance of it,” Baldwin said.
Those words stayed with Baldwin as he strived to reach his dream – going from three-sport standout at Gulf Breeze High School; to a two-way threat as a receiver and kick returner at Stanford University; to the Seahawks. Baldwin made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2011, and then led the team in receptions as a rookie. That made Baldwin the first rookie wide receiver to be the team’s leading receiver since Hall of Famer Steve Largent in 1976 (tight end John Carlson also did it in 2008), and the first undrafted rookie to lead his team since Bill Groman of the Houston Oilers in 1960.
“It has a lot to do with how I approach things on the football field,” the 5-foot-10, 189-pound Baldwin said. “It says that this great nation was created with every man being created equal. That’s goes for on the football field, too. You might have guys who are more athletic, bigger, faster, stronger, whatever it may be. But at the same time, you have an opportunity to do something that those guys can’t.
“Not that they can’t, but that you’re just as equally valuable for whatever you do on the football field.”
As for the life lessons attached to King’s words, Baldwin added, “It’s just that you can do anything that you put your mind to. Just because one guy is successful doesn’t mean you can’t be successful in whatever terms mean success to you.
“For me, it was I always wanted to be successful on the football field even though there were guys that were stronger than me, faster than me. I did whatever I could to give myself an opportunity to be out here and be successful.”
Baldwin isn’t just a student of the game; he’s a student of life. So he can relate to the way things were, even though he wasn’t there. And it gives him an appreciation for what those who came before him did to improve his situation.
“A lot of us forget about how it was,” Baldwin said. “A hundred years ago is not a long time in the grand scheme of things. And then 50 years ago, for Martin Luther King to be making his speech. We take it for granted sometimes just because it’s so desegregated now. Everything is so diverse and we have a lot more equal opportunity in the world.
“But you can always get better. There are still places in the world and in the United States that are still old-fashioned, I guess you would say. But we’re thankful and we’re blessed for the opportunity to do what we do because of the sacrifices people like Martin Luther King made.”
So even 50 years later, it gave someone who was born in 1988 reason to pause, reflect and give thanks.
“It’s days like this that we remember all the sacrifices those guys made. They gave their lives, their families, to allow us to do what we do today,” Baldwin said. “It might not be a huge thing in our minds, just because it’s so diverse now. But I think it resonates. The simple fact that we appreciate it takes it a long way.
“And we’ll be able to share that with our kids when we get older.”