Making words beautiful everywhere.

Knowing Doug Baldwin The player on the field is only eclipsed by the man off it

Isaac takes his basketball as seriously as anything in his life. If he is not playing XBox, he is shooting hoops. Still, it was a big decision for him to try out for the 6th-grade select team. The team had a coach who had a reputation for being toxic, but a few of Isaac's friends were going to be on the team as well, and one of his friend's fathers was an assistant. Isaac made the squad, and initially, all seemed as expected. The practices were tough, but Isaac told me after a week, "It is pretty hard, but I can see where this is going to make me better." Our family expectations were that he would probably ride the pine and learn the first season, so it was not a surprise to hear he was near the bottom of the depth chart of a well-established team. The surprises started when the coach informed a few players that they would not be allowed to dress for games so the coach was not required to play them. It continued when the coach split his A team and his B team in practices and would berate his A team players for not beating the inferior B team players, often singling out individual B team player weaknesses, "{Joey} is slow. You should be scoring on him every time." Having played sports through High School, I was accustomed to all sorts of coaching, but I had never seen a coach so divisive and demeaning within his own team. Little did I know that one of the more inspired sports moments I have witnessed would come from such a dark place.

Things got worse before they got better. Mixing in a few over-involved youth sports parents with a coach like this made for a terrible game experience. There was little joy for the families involved. Most were bracing themselves for the coach to yell at their kid or pull him off the court after a mistake. It was tense in an awkward way, not the competitive tension I was accustomed to. Relationships were getting strained between families that had known each other since their kids were in kindergarten together. Isaac was prepared to stick it out, but my wife and I decided it was not a healthy environment. After all, this was the same coach who ran the select baseball team Isaac had played on years earlier and then decided to never play baseball again. We did not want to see that happen again with a sport he loved so much. We informed the coach of our decision, knowing it was going to be hard for Isaac to face his friends as the one kid quitting the team.

We began searching for a new team after all the other tryouts had completed. My wife spoke with the Boys & Girls Club and learned there was a group of kids who wanted to play who did not have a coach. I offered to coach. The kids were great, but they had never played together, and we only were allowed one 60-minute practice each week, and there were only two weeks before games began. The other teams in our league, including Isaac's former squad, were select teams who had been playing together for years and practicing as much as six hours per week and playing tournaments on the side. We lost the first game by over 30 points. The second game was against Isaac's old team.

It was a slaughter. Isaac, and his new teammates, lost by more than 20 points. Isaac, was doing his best to get his teammates involved because he was facing a lot of double-teams. He ended the game without scoring a point, but neither he nor I thought much of it given the situation. After the game, I had Isaac walk up to his old coach and shake his hand and say, "Thank you for the experience." It was uncomfortable for him, and I was proud of the way he conducted himself. It was not until later that week that we learned from two of Isaac's friends still playing on the select team that their coach had told his players to target Isaac, and to not let him score, or they would have to run in practice.

I was furious. Here we were doing everything we could to help Isaac navigate this situation with some dignity, and a grown man was holding a grudge against a 12-year-old boy because he had the audacity to remove himself from a bad situation. The rag tag team I was coaching was doing their best to hold their chins up, but the punishment from massive blowouts was taking it's toll as well. I took to Twitter to vent, without naming any names. Other sports fans would understand. The outpouring of support was what I needed. I never expected what happened next. Doug Baldwin reached out and we started exchanging messages. He offered to come out to a practice and chat with the kids.

Doug was a champion before winning a Super Bowl

It was not the first time Doug and I had talked. I wrote a feature story about him after his rookie season and we got to know each other. His sophomore season was far more trying than his first. He faced multiple injuries, including losing a few teeth in the season opener while diving for what would have been a game-winning touchdown. I would often send words of encouragement and listen to some of his frustrations. After the Rams game, Russell Wilson's worst game as a pro with three interceptions, people were coming out of the woodwork pointing fingers at Wilson and the receivers. Some were calling for Matt Flynn to take over, and even Pete Carroll intimated that if Wilson did not show improvement against Carolina the following week, there might be a change.

I texted Doug suggesting that he seek out his young quarterback. It is the tough times, the moments when you are struggling and people tend to keep their distance, that a teammate can make the biggest difference. I did not know how Doug would react to the suggestion. Wilson, after all, had missed him wide open on the last play of the game and chose to throw to Anthony McCoy instead. McCoy fell down and the pass was intercepted. Baldwin is intensely competitive, and could have been angry at Wilson. Instead, I received a text back from Doug:

"lol. you're a good guy. russ and I just finished watching film together."
Baldwin often works in silence, as he did after the Rams defeat with Wilson

We would go on to have many exchanges, and get to know one another as well as one can through occasional Twitter and text messages. We met in person at John Schneider's charity dinner prior to his second year with the team, and we talked more in person during training camp. It was then that I met his girlfriend at the time, Jennilyn, and a number of the other family members of guys on the team. We like to believe these young men are as good as they appear during sound bites and interviews. It is always revealing to see who they surround themselves with and who raised them. It is a glamorous lifestyle, and it is not surprising that many get swept up in it. Doug, and the people around him, always appeared to be working hard to keep him grounded.

Baldwin strives for consistency on, and off, the field

Doug and I arranged a time that he could come out to a practice and surprise the kids. I told the parents that they might want to stick around for practice that night. One thing you learn with celebrities and pro athletes is that appointments are more like suggestions, and so counting on them to show is not wise. We got practice started as usual in a tiny middle school gym on the Eastside. The floors were dusty; the kind where you need to lick your hands and wet your soles to get any traction. About twenty minutes into practice, Doug and Jennilyn stroll into the gym. Heads turn. The ball bounces slowly to a roll. Then smiles. And cheers. It is hard to say who mobbed Doug first, the kids or their parents. After calming them down for a minute, I asked Doug a series of questions about adversity, and what he learned from it.

Things were easy for you in college, right?

"You were an early-round draft pick, right?"

"After a historic rookie season, everything has been smooth sailing in your second year, right?"

Doug flashed that grin of his after each prompt, and told the kids about the challenges he had faced and what he had to do to overcome them. He took off his shirt to show them a shoulder injury I had not even heard about. That bone on top of your shoulder, whatever it is called, was popping out about three inches too high on one shoulder he had dislocated that year. The doctors told him there was not a fix for it besides possibly shaving down the bone.

Kids will only listen for so long, even to a Seahawk, so we started up practice again and let Doug install a play. He is an avid basketball player, and played in high school. We called the play, "Baldwin," and walked through it a couple times. Then we played some bump with Doug and Jennilyn. The kids all wanted to see Doug dunk, but I could not get the slippery floor and memories of Nate Odomes out of my head, so I exerted coaches authority there. Doug stayed and signed shirts and whatever else people could get their hands on.

After that night, the team continued to lose, but there were clear signs of improvement. The 30 point losses were now 15 points and eventually single digits. A month went by and we were at another practice when I notice my phone buzzing. I ignore it, but it keeps buzzing. I look and see that Doug is texting me trying to figure out where we were practicing that night. He and Jennilyn were on their way up to see how the boys were doing. No request had been made. It was just Doug being Doug.

They arrived and we scrimmaged and played some more bump. Laughs. Smiles. Trash talking. One of the boys beat Doug in bump and will probably be bragging about it the rest of his life.

It is these moments, when nobody is looking, when no cameras are present, that character is defined. People often ask me if it is difficult to be objective in my analysis of players who I get to know personally. The premise of the question is flawed.

How a player performs in a game is one part of who they are. How that same player performs in practice is another, as is how they interact with their teammates, and their coaches, and the equipment people, and those who serve them food in the cafeteria. I have had the chance to see many of the Seahawks in all those circumstances. The more I learn about them, the better I can project what kind of potential they have as a player. Knowing a player like Doug as a person left me with less doubt than many analysts about how he would bounce back from his second season because of who he is and what he does when nobody is looking. There are players I have gotten to know quite well that led me to be less bullish on their potential. I choose to spend less time tearing those players down, and more time exalting the ones who deserve attention they might not naturally receive. Doug used to be one of them.

His new contract and his special performance throughout the Seahawks Super Bowl season has dramatically increased his public profile. He enters training camp as the starting split end on their depth chart, according to Pete Carroll. It is the first time he will enter the year as a starter on the outside as opposed to exclusively being a slot receiver. He earned that job with his play on the outside after Sidney Rice went down last year. People still underestimate him. His efficiency numbers are off-the-charts. This team may never know what heights he is capable of reaching because of the style of offense they run. But even if he is limited on the field by forces beyond his control, he is flourishing off it with no ceiling in sight. He was named the Seahawks Man of the Year last season for his work in the community. He refused press coverage because, "That's not why I do it."

Baldwin is not perfect. Nobody is. People know about his Angry Doug Baldwin persona that has grown out of critics pointing out the deficiencies of either the receivers on the team or him as an individual. He openly shares how he is driven to be a great receiver, in part, to prove those critics wrong. There are Pro Bowls and Super Bowls and paychecks to reward the success Baldwin wants to achieve playing football. They can be trotted out for the world to see. His greatest accomplishments, though, will likely come without any of us there to see it. He will influence one young kid or hundreds. He will help someone realize a lifelong dream before they pass on. He will show a group of boys that there is pride to be found in defeat.

Luca Logo

Turn your content into something beautiful. Fast.

Start Here