Seahawks aim for a different kind of community engagement
For all the passion the Seahawks inspire, for all they’ve done to unite sports fans in the region, they still haven’t connected with the area. And many of them desperately want to do so.
Times staff columnist
The Seattle Seahawks don’t really know Seattle.
They don’t have much time to explore. They’re young alpha males on the field, but they’re kind of shy, and also wary, away from the game. The majority of them live on the Eastside, within 10 or so miles of the team’s Renton headquarters, and they venture into the city only on game days.
They need the world’s finest GPS just to get to the Space Needle.
Despite all the time you spend thinking about the Super Bowl champions, here’s something you probably haven’t considered: For all the passion the Seahawks inspire, for all they’ve done to unite sports fans in the region, they still haven’t connected with the area. And many of them desperately want to do so.
That’s why Wednesday night became an illuminating experience. About 15 Seahawks came to White Center for a private networking occasion with some local business leaders. The event, called Off Field Network, was a partnership between Seahawks director of player development Maurice Kelly and Toyia Taylor, the founder of a company called we.app (act. present. perform.).
The goal was simple, yet worthwhile: Start the process of getting the Seahawks engaged with the community. Outside of the team’s biggest stars, the Seahawks are still a largely anonymous crew that dominates for four or five months in the fall and winter and then disappears for the rest of the year.
This time of year is a prime example. The team is back in town participating in the offseason workout program, but if you don’t live on the Eastside, you rarely see them. The players are so unfamiliar with Seattle that they arrived in White Center surprised that it took them an hour to get there from Renton in rush-hour traffic.
Some players admit to flying home during the weekends because they don’t have anything better to do. As football players, they thrive on routine. But the routine also can blind them. They don’t have many opportunities to look around and see what the region has to offer.
So Wednesday night was fun. Left tackle Russell Okung, who is one of the most active Seahawks in the community, received an award for his efforts with his Up Foundation. Two neighborhood groups, the Technology Access Foundation and the White Center Community Development Association, were honored, as were two middle-school students for their academic achievements.
Among the Seahawks present: Okung and fellow offensive lineman Jared Smith; linebackers K.J. Wright and Mike Morgan; quarterback B.J. Daniels; tight end Luke Willson; fullback Spencer Ware; defensive linemen Greg Scruggs, Jesse Williams, Jordan Hill and D’Anthony Smith; and defensive backs Jeron Johnson, Chandler Fenner and DeShawn Shead.
The players didn’t just make an appearance to appease Kelly, either. They were into the event. They worked the room. They were chatty. They asked smart questions and made connections. More than half of them stayed past the event’s scheduled ending.
Why? Because they can repeat the common cliché about the NFL: “It stands for Not For Long.” I was particularly impressed with Fenner. You might not know much about him. He’s a 23-year-old cornerback who has the size the Seahawks covet (6 feet 1, 190 pounds). He went undrafted out of Holy Cross in 2012, spent some time with Kansas City and then was signed to the Seahawks practice squad late in 2012. He missed last season with an injured knee, but now he’s back fighting for a place in the NFL.
He was as inquisitive as any Seahawk who attended the event. He also talked glowingly about Seahawks All-Pro Earl Thomas’ leadership and how it inspires him. But mostly, he was interested in learning as much as he could about how people in other professions got into their careers and how they’re maintaining their edge. He even asked me a dozen questions about sports journalism.
(I wanted to brainwash him, but he was too earnest to con.)
Even a player like Wright, a two-year starter who is only 24 years old, knows an abrupt ending could happen. He says players are “foolish” if they don’t ponder life after football at an early age.
Later, we had a conversation about former Seattle stars who retired in the region and are now thriving. You think of former Sonics coach and player Lenny Wilkens, a Hall of Famer who has made this home and who has great influence because people will never forget him leading the Sonics to the 1979 title.
You think of Detlef Schrempf and the strength of his foundation. You think of the respect Fred Brown still commands.
You think of how beloved Shawn Kemp remains. You think of the influence of active players, such as homegrown NBA star Jamal Crawford.
You think of NBA legend Bill Russell, who coached the Sonics from 1973 to 1977 and has remained in the region.
The list goes on and on. Seattle never forgets its sports stars. Heck, the entire area is like that. So the Seahawks need to get out of the apartment-Renton-apartment routine, put the playbook down for a few hours (sorry, Pete) and experience all there is for them.
Taylor says the goal is to hold two more Off Field Network events in the coming months. She’s targeting the Central district and South Seattle as the next two diverse communities for the players to get to know.
In time, perhaps some of these Seahawks will stay in town when they have a free weekend. Then they can learn to connect with the entire region.
At the very least, since they own the city right now, they might as well learn to navigate it.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277
On Twitter @JerryBrewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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