When Ed Goines receives the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation's Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Salute to Excellence Award on Thursday night, he will be accepting an award that honors his professional achievements with the Seattle Seahawks, but more importantly, he hopes that he'll be setting an example.
Goines, the Seahawks' Senior Vice President, General Counsel & Government Affairs, will be one of six people receiving the Salute to Excellence Award in Atlanta as the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation gathers to acknowledge the stellar history and continued contributions of racial minorities holding positions in the National Football League and those who champion diversity. And as an African American in a high-ranking front office role, Goines hopes his success can inspire others.
"As a minority front office executive, I like the role modeling that this award does, because it sends messages to everybody, but particularly to other racial minorities that there are avenues throughout the NFL other than just playing on the football field," said Goines, who has worked for the Seahawks for five years. "It's another way to model that there's an avenue beyond the playing field."
Goines is too young to have memories of Martin Luther King, Jr. fighting for civil rights, or of John F. Kennedy's presidency or of Robert Kennedy's political career, but he grew up learning about the legacy of those men, or as Goines described it, "looking at people who represented the underrepresented."
"Those guys were all about being the voice for the voiceless—how do we help people who don't have the ability to articulate what they need?" said Goines.
With those lessons instilled in him as a child growing up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Goines initially thought he would pursue law to become a civil rights lawyer, to "help those who can't help themselves."
After attending Stanford University, followed by law school at the University of California, Berkeley, Goines instead began a career that included stops at Disney, Mattel, Ticketmaster, the San Francisco 49ers and Major League Soccer before joining the Seahawks, but he found a way to make a difference in the community while working in the private sector, giving time and money to various nonprofit organizations over the years, including locally the Rainier Scholars, and in the Bay Area, Stanford’s First Generation and Low-Income program, as well as Fresh Lifelines for Youth.
"To be a leader in your community, you have to give back to your community," said Seahawks President Chuck Arnold, who will present the Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Salute to Excellence Award to Goines. "Ed knows that and he's out and about and involved in a number of different causes that he's passionate about himself."
As for his role with the Seahawks, Goines administers the corporate legal affairs for the Seahawks and First & Goal, Inc./CenturyLink Field and is responsible for managing the organization's government relations strategy and policies. It's a job that requires Goines to interact with everyone from players to corporate partners to government officials to people in the league office, and he brings to the job a skillset that is ideal for handling a variety of roles.
"Ed's got a unique set of characteristics that allow him to succeed in whatever environment he's in," Arnold said. "He's very good with people. Internally, he's an expert in all the different areas that he touches, which is the entire organization. And externally, he's fantastic in the community, well respected, and he's also—part of his role is our government affairs, so he's able to thrive in all settings, which is probably unique for being general counsel. He just does a really nice job in whatever setting he's in. People gravitate towards him, he's well-liked. He has the kind of charisma that people like to be around, which allows him then to create and establish really deep relationships that help us as an organization. He's one of our senior VPs, so he influences a lot of our decisions, and he also goes out and helps build strategies and execute a lot of what we're trying to accomplish too, because he is so good with people."
For Goines, receiving an award from the Fritz Pollard Alliance is significant not just because of what that group represents, but because of one of the men behind its founding. John Wooten, the Fritz Pollard Alliance's chairman, was a Pro Bowl guard for the Cleveland Browns in the 1960s, but his legacy extends far beyond his playing career. Wooten also had a long career in NFL front offices, serving as Dallas' director of pro scouting, Philadelphia's vice president of player personnel, and Baltimore's assistant director of pro and college scouting, among other roles. Then in 2003 he became the chairman of the newly-formed Fritz Pollard Alliance. And throughout his career, Wooten was also an outspoken social activist whose legacy includes, among many other things, helping organize the famous 1967 “Cleveland Summit” that saw a number of famous African American athletes, including Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Lew Alcindor meet with, and later hold a press conference in support of Muhammad Ali.
"I know John Wooten and the work he has done," Goines said, "His real impact is that he has always been a social activist throughout his life. His idea was that athletes should be activists as well—you live in the community, you see what's going on, you should speak out about it. So the fact that this award is coming from his organization, it's an extreme honor for me, because I know what he stands for."
And in that spirit, Goines has been impressed with the way recent Seahawks players, and players throughout the league, have embraced the idea that they can use their platforms as professional athletes to make a difference. In some cases Goines has helped facilitate meetings between players and local politicians or law enforcement agencies, though he is quick to credit players for taking the lead in those circumstances, describing himself as a facilitator.
"It's wonderful," Goines said. "I think it's reflective of the youth today, of people having a voice and wanting to be heard. But what I was really impressed by was their desire to want to be educated about the issues first before they spoke out, because they understood the power of their voice, and they wanted to make sure that what they were saying—because youth are listening too—so they want youth to understand their balanced approach, not just jumping on one side or another side. We all have to live together and let's figure out a way to do it in a balanced way. I didn't hear one comment from any of those guys that said, 'These guys are all bad, or these guys are all good.' It was very balanced. I liked the fact that they educated themselves and that they realized the audiences they were talking to include some people who didn't agree with their position. They were steadfast in their position, but they were also open to hearing from others. It's 180 degrees from how athletes were perceived when I was growing up. Today, organizations like ours and others are more supportive of people to talk about the issues, so as long as they're educated, they feel more freedom to do it."
While Goines didn't know exactly where life would take him when he was a child in Hot Springs, he did have an understanding at a young age that he somehow wanted to do his part to make the world a better place. It was during a civics class at Rix Elementary when Goines had an eye-opening experience that would help shape him moving forward. A teacher, trying to explain issues such as wealth disparity, pulled out a map of Hot Springs and noted that the area south of East Grand Ave. was considered the poor part of town. Goines grew up south of East Grand.
"I never thought about poverty before that, the idea that some people have and some people do not," Goines said. "That struck a chord—wait, people think we're poor? So I started to look into it. There's so much more opportunity over there that I didn't even know about. So the idea of opportunity being available to all was one of the first things that struck me. There's no reason why this group of people should be over here and this group should be over there. If there's opportunity and there's a big pie, then we should all have a chance at it. So that's why my thought was, that there shouldn't be a limiting approach towards life, but a more-availability, opportunity-bountiful part of life that we all should strive for. That has been in me from fourth or fifth grade until now."
Take a look back at some of the Seahawks' community events from the 2018 season.