On September 1, 1996, I donned purple as an eight-year-old at Memorial Stadium in support of the Baltimore Ravens first regular season home game. Michael Jackson quickly became my favorite player, not just because he shared his name with the King of Pop, but because he led the NFL with 14 touchdowns that season.
My love for the Ravens continued through the Marchibroda years and that faith in the franchise finally paid off when Brian Billick’s scrappy underdogs hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa Bay after going into the lions den carrying a spear and screaming like a banshee, while also destroying the New York Giants 34-7 in Super Bowl XXXV. That’s when things changed in Baltimore. Suddenly training camp was overwhelming full (it was open to the public in those days) and the kids in my middle school that rooted for the Cowboys started trading in their blue and silver for purple and black.
That’s what happens when teams become successful. It was frustrating as hell as a seventh grader (it’s still frustrating as hell now as a 26 year old), but it’s a necessary evil for any local team.
Since that time, the Ravens have been the belle of the ball here in Baltimore. They could do no wrong, while the bumbling Orioles across the street couldn’t even put together a winning season. Folks were disgusted with O’s ownership and stopped going to games in baseball’s most beautiful ballpark, while pointing to the model that the Ravens had instilled as the shining example of how to run a team. Even after the Orioles broke their decade and a half streak of losing seasons with a playoff berth in 2012, the Ravens followed it with a Super Bowl XLVII championship.
After the events of this past offseason and a few first three weeks of 2014, that Super Bowl victory seems like it happened around the same time as the moon landing. Oh and the Ravens? They’ve become arguably one of the most scandalous franchises in professional sports.
It’s always embarrassing to cheer for a team that leads the offseason in arrests. It’s even more embarrassing to cheer for a team that has a player charged with domestic violence and a video released by TMZ of him dragging his unconscious fiancee from at Atlantic City elevator. Over the spring and summer I felt like I had to say to people “Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but I’m ashamed of their star running back’s actions.”
That line after ‘but’ seemed to grow even longer and more complicated as the Rice fiasco unfolded.
“Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but I think it’s horrible that Janay Palmer Rice apologized for her role in what occurred in that Revel Casino Hotel elevator and ridiculous that the Ravens tweeted that quote.”
“Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but I think Roger Goodell should have suspended Ray Rice for way more than two games.”
“Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but Kevin Byrne’s ‘I Like Ray Rice‘ blogpost is pretty much the opposite of how I feel about this team right now.”
“Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but I wasn’t one of the idiots cheering him at an open practice at M&T Bank Stadium.
Then TMZ released the in-elevator video and my responses become even more complex.
“Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but I can’t believe it took video evidence for the team to finally release Ray Rice when the police report detailed exactly what happened inside that elevator.
“Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but I’m not stupid enough to believe that the team never saw the in-elevator video.”
“Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but I’m not stupid enough to believe that the Roger Goodell never saw the in-elevator video.”
“Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but I can’t believe it took the team this long to address the media about releasing Ray Rice and it’s incredibly cowardly that they ran head coach John Harbaugh out to answer the questions that Steve Bisciotti, Dick Cass and Ozzie Newsome should have answered.
“Yeah, I’m a Ravens fan, but I’m well aware that Roger Goodell’s ‘independent investigator’ Robert Mueller works at WilmerHale, a law firm that helped the NFL recently negotiate a multi-billion dollar contract with DirecTV and the same law firm that Ravens president Dick Cass was employed at for over 30 years.
The saddest part of all of my responses is that there were people who wore Rice’s jersey to Baltimore’s Thursday Night Football matchup against the Steelers in week two. There are fans blogging about the biases in ESPN’s report that Bisciotti, Cass and Newsome actively tried to prevent the inside-the-elevator video from becoming public. There are still people listening to the Ravens “PR Guru” (the title on his blog, The Byrne Identity, on BaltimoreRavens.com), say that the team has been transparent during the Rice saga.
1. I couldn’t be more embarrassed by the fans wearing Rice jerseys.
2. How many national media outlets are Ravens fans going to dispute before believing those who talked to sources inside and out of the organization? It’s almost as though some people will need TMZ to leak video of the Ravens front office watching the inside-the-elevator video to actually believe it happened.
3. How have the Ravens possibly been transparent during any of this? The team openly defended Rice, promoted fans that were cheering for him (that blogpost has mysteriously disappeared from BaltimoreRavens.com), then went silent when the second video is released. They have only ever responded when their feet have been to the fire. If that video was never released, Rice would have played on Sunday against the Browns.
Byrne added on Saturday, at a Ray Rice jersey exchange that 7,000 fans attended at M&T Bank Stadium, that the Ravens were “focused on Cleveland” and said they would respond with their “side of the story” this week. Maybe John Harbaugh and the team was focused on Cleveland, but Byrne was speaking AT A RAY RICE JERSEY EXCHANGE.
Not responding to ESPN’s Outside The Lines report on Saturday left Harbaugh high and dry (again) as he was asked after defeating the Browns in Cleveland to give an answer. That’s the second time the time has done that to their head coach, who reportedly wanted to cut Rice back in February.
Still there are fans, people that wear the same colors on Sunday that I do and cheer for the same team that I cheer for, that either don’t care or think that the national media is out to get their team or are disgusted that TMZ purchased this video in the first place. They ignore what could go down as one of the biggest scandals in the history of professional sports and email and tweet me to “stick to baseball” because they believe I clearly don’t like the Ravens. How could I if a disagreed with them so much?
And it’s because we share a passion for the same team, the team that I started rooting for when Michael Jackson was my favorite player, that I’m associated with this fan base. It’s the fan base that I have to constantly tell outsiders that I’m embarrassed to be associated with right now for so many reasons, but there’s nothing I can do to separate myself from them.
It’s a truly difficult time for me to be a Ravens fan.