On Wednesday, Richard Sherman used his weekly press conference to talk about matters far more significant than football, and a day later, Seahawks teammates Doug Baldwin and Michael Bennett continued the conversation.
“I want to actually get to what I want to talk to today,” Baldwin said Thursday after making a brief statement about his health and facing the San Francisco 49ers. “Obviously we know the national attention is on 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.’
“In 2014, Tamir Rice was shot and killed. 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 de-escalation 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 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 de-escalation 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 with justice.’ And I believe that if we are more concerned with order than justice, then we’ll lose both.”
As Baldwin notes, his and his teammates’ issue isn’t with law enforcement as a whole. In fact, his father was a police officer in Pensacola, Florida for 35 years. What they want is to use their voice to make positive change happen where there is a disconnect between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
“Right now, like I said, we’re focused on the follow through,” Baldwin said. “You’ve heard the message, you’ve seen the protest and now we’re working on the follow through. Again, we’re only a small group, a small portion of the population, and there are people out there that have greater power than we do. Our voice is still going to continuously be heard, but at the same time we need those that have the power to makes the changes to act."
Baldwin, Bennett, Sherman and any other athlete who has spoken out on social justice issues know that activism can come with backlash, but when it comes to a topic this serious, they aren’t going to sit back quietly and not speak up if they think their voices can make a difference.
“We cannot tolerate this,” Baldwin said. “Lives are being lost and there are questions that need to be answered, and the people deserve an answer.
“Why wouldn’t you (speak out)? You’re a human being. You watch that video of that man who has his hands raised up, and he’s walking back to his car. Now I don’t know all the context, but 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… 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.”
Bennett also had a simple but powerful reason for speaking out, even if it comes with some backlash.
“At the end of the day, I’m a black man in America, and that outweighs every play I ever make on the football field,” he said. “No matter how many sacks I make, if I walk into the wrong place, they’re going to see me as a black man.”
Bennett has never been shy about speaking his mind, including when he wore a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt during a press conference at the start of training camp and lamented that more athletes don’t use their platform to try to make a positive difference in the world.
Throughout the NFL, more and more of that is going on early this season, from demonstrations during the National Anthem to players being more outspoken, and Bennett likes what he is seeing.
“I’m proud of everybody. I think everybody’s standing up,” he said. “In this day and age with Twitter and Facebook and all these different things, it’s easy to be ridiculed. I think a lot of people were scared of the backlash they would get, but I feel like people have said, ‘enough.’ At the end of day, it’s just about sharing your message, because at the end of the day it’s, how many lives can you change? What are you doing to make a change? That’s what athletes are doing now. They realize they have the power to make a change, and they’re all standing up and not caring about what people write and what people are saying about them.
“I think people were so caught up in the flag that they forgot about the message, the message of social injustices. That’s what (49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick) was talking about, that’s what Doug is talking about, that’s what every athlete is talking about. The economic things going on, things with cops, the school system. There’s so much injustice going on all around, and think people missed the point—they wanted to miss the point, I feel like. At the end of the day when you look in the mirror and really see what’s going on, that’s a calling on you to help make a change. And how many people really want to make a change? ... We’re starting to realize that as athletes and people we have to make sacrifices for other people and try to make the world better and make our community better.”
As for that follow through Baldwin is looking for, it’s already happening. Baldwin and what he called the team’s “building bridges task force” have already had meetings with different groups, including the department of justice, which he called, “very enlightening and eye-opening.” And his plea to state attorney generals was heard by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson within minutes of the press conference.