On one hand, Doug Baldwin is honored to have his work in the community recognized with the Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Distinguished Service, which he received Monday from King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove.
On the other hand, Baldwin wishes we were living in a society where his actions wouldn't be worthy of a medal because they would be more commonplace.
"Playing devil's advocate, I look at it as a negative that there's still such a need for people to advocate for those who can't advocate for themselves," Baldwin said. "In a society that's so advanced with technology and advanced thought, the fact that we're still so desperately in need of people to advocate for others, it's disheartening at times."
Disheartening or not, Baldwin's work in the region he has called home since joining the Seahawks in 2011 has been impressive, hence him being honored with the MLK Medal of Distinguished Service, which recognizes "those who have gone above and beyond in their efforts to make a difference in communities across King County in answer to Dr. King's question: 'What are you doing for others?'"
"Dr. King understood the importance of the opportunities athletes had to use their platforms for positive social change," Councilmember Upthegrove said in a statement. "Doug's commitment to service in Renton and all of the communities in King County embodies that vision – and we are better for it."
For more than three years, Baldwin has worked with Renton city leaders and the Renton School District to create the Family First Community Center, which is aiming to open in the spring of 2020.
The center won't just offer academic support and athletic programs to kids, though that will be a part of it. HealthPoint, a non-profit health center, is also partnering with the community center to provide health services.
"It's different in that it's a multi-faceted service center where all ages will be able to use the services there," Baldwin said. "The hook for me is to get the kids in to play sports and to have academic resources available to them, especially after school. But once you get the kids, you can also get the parents. Then there's going to be services and activities there where the parents and family members can be a part of it, get resources and services that will aid in the health and wellness of their lives. We're also partnering with HealthPoint, who's going to provide medical service, dental service, social resources and all of those things that are outside of the athletic and academic portion of it."
The Family First Community Center is just one of the many ways Baldwin has used his platform as a Pro-Bowl receiver to make a difference off the field.
Last season, Baldwin helped lead the way in the creation of the Seahawks Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund, which in December announced its first seven grants. The Seahawks Players Action Fund last week announced it was partnering with Pearl Jam in the Seattle band's effort to fight homelessness. The previous year, Baldwin was a big part of the team's effort to build a bridge between local law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve, and last year he co-wrote a letter with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling for criminal justice reform. Baldwin also helped support Initiative 940, which called for "law enforcement to receive violence de-escalation, mental-health, and first-aid training, and provide first-aid; and change standards for use of deadly force, adding a 'good faith' standard and independent investigation." In March, Governor Jay Inslee signed 940 into law.
Whenever Baldwin is asked about giving his time, energy and money to so many causes when he could just be enjoying life as a young, famous and wealthy man, he always comes back to the word empathy and turns the question into "why not?" Baldwin would prefer to live in a society where what he has done over the past few years is the norm for someone in his position of influence, not something worthy of a medal.
"The answer is still the same, 'why not?'" he said. "As I go through the process of becoming a man, learning, maturing, growing up and seeing the world from the perspective that I've been blessed to be a part of, in terms of going from the South in Florida to the West Coast at Stanford and being exposed to so many different cultures and opinions and viewpoints, then coming to the Pacific Northwest and the same happening over again, somewhere along the line empathy has been injected into me, and it keeps coming back with things we see on TV and in the media, conversations I have with teammates, conversations I have with law enforcement, with community members. For me there's always empathy and this sense of emotion trying to put myself in another person's shoes. And when I do that, I get frustrated, I get sad, I feel the emotions that other people are feeling. I've been blessed with this platform, with these resources, with this networking ability, why can't I use it for the betterment of people who don't have those resources? To me it's just common sense, it's a no-brainer."