RENTON, Wash. — Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin says he has found the first few months of his post-NFL career to be more challenging than relaxing, but he has no second thoughts about the decision he made to walk away from football and doesn’t think he’ll ever get the urge to come back.
The process of arriving at that decision, according to Baldwin, began well before he suffered a slew of injuries during what turned out to be his final season.
“It was a process longer than just last year,” Baldwin told ESPN.com on Monday. “I think when you come into the NFL or any entertainment business as a young person, you have to be selfish, you have to be self-centered because it’s all about self-preservation in that arena. I’m not saying this is the general population of athletes and entertainers, but I think a lot of us struggle with the concept of having a god complex, thinking that we’re invincible and that we’re immortal in some ways, and when you start to come to grips with the reality of being mortal and knowing that this is all going to come to an end at some point, you start to see the world differently. Perspective changes. I’ve been going through that process for a number of years. It actually started my second year in the NFL, understanding that eventually there’s got to be a plan.”
For Baldwin, the challenge isn’t about missing the sport that he has played for most of his life.
“It’s more so that my identity has been wrapped up in football since I was 6 years old,” he said. “Navigating not having that, not having the instant feedback and the false affirmation of what my value was in the world because I had caught touchdowns on some days, I’m navigating that as a human on a very human level. That process has been challenging to say the least, but it’s also been a rewarding one because it’s allowed me to refocus my passions but also to re-understand who I am in the greater scheme of things and how I fit into the world.”
Baldwin spoke while standing on a patch of grass near an elementary school in Renton, Washington, where he’s working with local officials to build a $15 million community/health center for underserved youth. Baldwin said the hope is to break ground in February now that $10.5 million has already been raised, which includes $1 million of his own money and a $70,000 donation from the Seahawks. The proposed site is a short drive from the team’s headquarters.
Baldwin missed three games in 2018 and was physically compromised for most of the season while dealing with injuries to both knees, his shoulder, his elbow and his groin. That led to three surgeries after the season. Baldwin said he’s still struggling to recover, though “it’s coming along.” He admitted that he probably shouldn’t have played as much as he did in 2018, noting that he returned in weeks from injuries that were supposed to sideline him for months.
Baldwin, who recently became a father for the first time, answered in the affirmative when asked if it scared him last season to think about how those injuries would impact him later in his life. He empathized with Andrew Luck, his former Stanford teammate and close friend, in that regard.
“It’s kind of frustrating to watch kind of the commentary that’s been wrapped around Andrew retiring,” Baldwin said. “… It’s a point in life that I think everybody reaches, whether you’re in sports, entertainment or at a desk job or at a factory. You come to a point where you have to make a decision that is best for your life long-term, and as difficult as that is for people who have been in a realm that has put them on a pedestal, this false affirmation, this false validation that you are a better human being than other people because you catch touchdowns or because you throw touchdowns, it’s hard to pull yourself out of that.
“… The perspective is, I have to do what’s best for my wife and for my future children, and that comes first. And when you’re faced with the decisions of, ‘Well, if I continue to do this, what is my health going to be like when my child is born? When my kids are old enough to run around and play, am I going to be able to enjoy that experience and have that experience that I envision in my head? Am I going to be able to do that?’ So you come to the proverbial fork in the road as Andrew said, and you have to make a decision. The decision to play football originally and to put everything into it to accomplish these goals and to get money and all the things, that was somewhat selfish. It’s the same thing on this side. It just looks different. It’s all about self-preservation. As I’m trying to articulate it, it’s been a challenge, but I think the most important aspect of all of this is that I can look back, when I’m 60 years old, I can look back and say that I did everything possible to make sure that I was able to pick up my children when they were born, that I was able to run around with them when they were kids and to be there for them cognitively when they’re older and they need their father to be not just a father but their friend as they navigate the world. Those things have been vitally important to me, and those things take precedence over everything else now.”
Baldwin had two years and $21 million remaining on his contract when the Seahawks terminated it in May with a failed/physical designation.
He has yet to file paperwork with the league that would make his retirement official, but that isn’t any indication that he’s keeping the door open to a potential return. He made that clear when asked if he could see himself wanting to play again. Baldwin, who often pauses to think about his responses before verbalizing them, didn’t wait to hear the end of the question.
“No,” he said. “I’m done with football.”