I never knew “Angry Doug” Baldwin.
“Angry Doug” was the nickname bestowed during Baldwin’s early days as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. From the moment he arrived in Seattle as an undrafted free agent wide receiver in 2011, he always seemed to be ticked off about something. The targets of his ire ranged from the teams that passed over him in the NFL draft, to the media members who labeled the Seahawks’ receiving group as “pedestrian.” Even his college coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh, wasn’t spared while Harbaugh coached the rival San Francisco 49ers.
Baldwin didn’t have a chip on his shoulder, he had a railroad tie.
But by the time I began covering the Seahawks full-time in 2015, “Angry Doug” had morphed into “Contemplative Doug.” Gone was the perpetual railing at the world as Baldwin found a way to rechannel his passion from anger into thoughtfulness. There were times when his media sessions seemed less like football press conferences and more like a modern-day Aristotle addressing students at the Lyceum in ancient Athens.
This is the Doug Baldwin who I’m going to miss.
Baldwin had his contract terminated by the Seahawks on Thursday after failing a physical. That brought an end to an eight-year Seahawks career during which Baldwin transformed himself from an anonymous nobody at rookie camp into one of the best receivers in the NFL. There were concerns about Baldwin’s health throughout the offseason, as every few weeks it seemed news dropped about Baldwin needing another surgery, and on the eve of last month’s NFL draft reports surfaced that Baldwin was considering retirement because of the cumulative effect of injuries. On Thursday those concerns became reality.
This is a terrible development for the Seahawks. He was a core player during the most successful span in franchise history. In his eight seasons he caught 493 passes for 6,563 yards and 49 touchdowns, ranking in the top three in franchise history in all three categories, and some of his acrobatic grabs have burned indelible images on the region’s sports psyche.
.@DougBaldwinJr made the most ridiculous grabs 😱
End of an era in Seattle. pic.twitter.com/gpujvMQ10L
— NFL (@NFL) May 9, 2019
But for me personally? I’m sadder we’re losing Baldwin the man than losing Baldwin the player.
Understand this, Baldwin is not a person who speaks at a tremendous volume. He’s soft spoken to the point where you needed to make sure you were toward the front of a media scrum if you wanted to be able to actually hear what he was saying. And he wasn’t someone who spouted words from the hip, he always spoke deliberately, often pausing to gather his thoughts to make sure he expressed himself in the manner that conveyed his message best.
But while those words may not have been loud, they carried oh so much weight. Baldwin understood there were things more important than football. He understood the privilege and responsibility afforded by his platform. He used that platform to try and shine a light on social justice issues and make the world a better place.
And Baldwin lived his words.
You want NFL players to stand for the national anthem? Baldwin was one of the leaders in the team decision to stand in unity with arms locked for the anthem when the situation was at is most contentious in 2016.
You want players to recognize all sides of an issue? Baldwin is the son of a police officer, so he brought multiple perspectives to the table during his meetings with local law enforcement officials and Washington State legislators about finding ways to de-escalate tensions between police and minority populations.
You want NFL players to quit talking and take action? Baldwin was at the forefront of making things happen locally, including spearheading the creation of the Seahawks’ Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund, which provides financial assistance for things like education and police training.
And as the husband of a high school counselor, I was always tickled when Baldwin spoke about how the prefrontal cortex of the human brain doesn’t fully develop until one reaches his or her mid-20s, a subject my wife brings up frequently when talking about working with teenagers.
Perhaps as much as any athlete I’ve encountered during my years in sports journalism, I found Baldwin to be a source of illumination.
What’s next for Baldwin? No one knows for sure. He hasn’t spoken publicly since the Seahawks made their announcement Thursday. Maybe his NFL career is over. Maybe he believes he can catch on somewhere else.
But wherever Baldwin ends up or whatever he finds himself doing, there’s one message I’d wish to convey to him: As a Seahawks follower I’m going to miss Doug Baldwin the player, but not nearly as much as I’m going to miss Doug Baldwin the man.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.