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Sports >  Seattle Seahawks

For Doug Baldwin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, Champions of Change is a way to keep their Seahawks legacy alive

June 25, 2022 Updated Sat., June 25, 2022 at 5:34 p.m.

By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

RENTON — Doug Baldwin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett have different titles now than during their years helping lead the Seahawks to heights the franchise had never known.

Baldwin, then a wide receiver who ended his career as the best in Seahawks history aside from Steve Largent, today proudly says, “I’m a girl dad!” with daughters ages 2 and 3, and serves as the CEO of Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue-based company whose mission is stated as “creating software to empower better decisions and improved results for a stronger and healthier lifestyle.”

Bennett, who back then teamed with Avril to form one of the NFL’s most intimidating pass rushes, is a husband, father to three daughters and now a budding architect. He is currently enrolled in an architecture program at the University of Hawaii — he has long had a home in the Honolulu area with his wife, Pele — after also taking a year of classes there in interior design.

Avril, also a husband and father, was a co-host on Sports Radio 93.3 KJR from 2018-20 and has kept his hand in a number of different business and philanthropic activities in the Seattle area since that job ended.

But all three know that the title “Seahawk” may be the one that will forever best define them in the public.

And if they will never again be actual Seahawks on gameday, they have found another way to again consider themselves teammates.

The trio announced in March the formation of Champions of Change, an organization designed, as its website says, with a goal of “shepherding awareness and support for organizations that serve our communities by sustaining pathways for families to have stable, healthy and loving homes.”

The centerpiece of their efforts is a celebrity basketball game Sunday at 3 p.m. at Climate Pledge Arena — the first of what they plan will become an annual affair — that will include Sue Bird and Marshawn Lynch as co-coaches for one team, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp as co-coaches for the other, and celebrity players that are scheduled to include former Seahawk teammates Richard Sherman, Jermaine Kearse, Jeremy Lane, Derrick Coleman, Bruce Irvin and Bryan Walters.

All were members of the 2013 team that won the city its only Super Bowl title.

And while many have remained close — Baldwin says he and Avril, both of whom decided to make Seattle their permanent home, “talk damn near every day” — the passing of time means that some have not seen each other for a little while, making any chance to connect that much more valued.

“It just feels like when we get together it feels like that group, we feel very young and have fun,” Bennett said Friday. “It’s just one of those things that you love to be around those guys when you get the opportunity.”

Consider that, then, a happy byproduct of the main purpose of their new team.

Bennett, Avril and Baldwin were all involved in charitable organizations during their Seahawks years.

But as their NFL careers began to end — Avril’s in 2017, Baldwin’s in 2018 and Bennett’s in 2019 — they also began to consider how best to continue that work in retirement.

Bennett said he and Avril came up with a plan to organize a charitable group to help the Seattle area when Avril visited him when he was playing for the Eagles in 2018.

They threw out on Twitter whether they should host a flag football game — Bennett’s idea — or a basketball game — Avril’s. Avril’s idea won the vote and the two decided to try to come up with a way to actually make it happen. They then approached Baldwin to help, with Baldwin eagerly signing on.

“I think we think in the way of being part of a team, a collaboration,” Bennett said. “So this makes sense for us that it’s not about the one, it’s about the whole.”

The purpose of their group is to spotlight local organizations that may not get as much attention as others. Among their benefitting partners are the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic; DADS; Women United Seattle; Humble Design Seattle; and Dignity for Divas.

Friday, as part of their Champions of Change weekend, they held a day of service that included an appearance at a Day of Play event at the Skyway Boys and Girls Club.

They selected that club as being in an area they feel is underserved. Along with food and games were booths for groups such as the Young Black & Brilliant Book Club, a Puyallup-based organization encouraging reading for children ages 11-15 — for every book read a child can take part in a planned social activity.

The purpose of the day was to expose as many parents and children as possible to activities, services and groups they may not have known about.

Baldwin then returns to a football metaphor.

“Just like winning a championship, everybody has a role to play,” he said. “Our role is to spotlight these organizations.”

And along the way, maybe continue to discover new post-football purposes in life.

Baldwin, essentially forced to retire following the 2018 season due to lingering injury issues, candidly admits “the first year-and-a-half I would say was really, really challenging. Think about a 30-year-old retiring from something they have done their entire lives and it’s ‘now what are you going to do?’ while still having that competitive drive and nature to want to do something but not knowing what to do.”

Baldwin, though, says that, along with his business and charitable activities, his growing family has helped give him a new focus.

“(My family) is pushing me into a different trajectory of life,” he said. “It (retirement) was really, really challenging at first. But I feel like I’m on the other side of it now.”

Bennett says his newfound passion for architecture has helped him adjust to life after football. His architectural emphasis, he said, is on public spaces such as museums and parks and “things that bring people together.”

But while his departure from Seattle via a trade to Philadelphia in March 2018 may have been characterized as somewhat contentious, Bennett said Friday that deciding to retire was made easier when he realized in his last two years with the Eagles, Patriots and Cowboys he’d never again find the kind of camaraderie he had with the Seahawks.

“After the Seahawks it was just one of those things,” Bennett said. “Here, the game is like you built this brotherhood. And when you don’t find that brotherhood it was just a game at that point, where here (in Seattle) we built something with a lot of great people and you have this bond with them and you are playing for more than the actual game. So I just felt like when you don’t have that anymore it just didn’t feel the same. So I just decided to retire.”

Like Baldwin, Avril had no choice in the matter, retiring following a neck injury in October 2017.

Bennett recently reminded him it was almost 10 years since the Super Bowl season, which caused Avril to remember he’s now been retired almost five years.

“Crazy,” Avril said.

But as they mingled with children and vendors and educators at their Day of Service Friday, they also realized that the memory of that glorious 2013 season can still seem as fresh as yesterday — a memory they hope events like Sunday can keep alive while also making some new ones.

“It’s been a journey,” Avril said. “It’s been a blessing. We were able to create something so special. But honestly I don’t think we realized how special it was for the city. We didn’t realize how good we were in the moment, either. So now we are starting to notice it and how people receive us. And also with the work we are doing in the community now, it’s all starting to come together full circle.”

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