Ravens give city hope amid vi­o­lence

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Faraji Muham­mad

In the clos­ing min­utes of the Bal­ti­more Ravens and Ten­nessee Ti­tans Di­vi­sional Play­off game, word be­gan to spread on so­cial me­dia about a spate of shoot­ings that left 12 in­jured and five dead in the city.

While the city and the coun­try were trans­fixed on the AFC di­vi­sion’s No. 1 seed and the NFL’s best team of the reg­u­lar sea­son, vi­o­lence was un­de­terred by the “pur­ple mad­ness” at M&T Bank sta­dium that could be heard blocks away.

Un­for­tu­nately, vi­o­lence is not new in Bal­ti­more, but this year felt dif­fer­ent.

The Ravens fi­nessed their way into the top of the foot­ball world. And as a re­sult, fans from across the coun­try and even around the world, started at­tach­ing them­selves to our be­lea­guered home­town. Those who had aban­doned the city or lost touch re-es­tab­lished their con­nec­tion to Charm City all based on a new nar­ra­tive: win­ning.

As one sports com­men­ta­tor put it, Bal­ti­more has thrived on the un­der­dog story. We have de­fined it and em­braced it as our col­lec­tive and per­sonal credo.

All that changed with the suc­cess of the Ravens. They went into the week­end with a 14-2 win­ning record and dom­i­nated the reg­u­lar sea­son through the rise of quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son and a game chang­ing of­fense and de­fense. The Ravens rewrote the typ­i­cal and played out Bal­ti­more nar­ra­tive and up­graded the way peo­ple viewed the city in the sports world and be­yond. And we were all here for it.

Mr. Jack­son helped fuel this new sense of pride when he vis­ited a West Bal­ti­more car­ry­out for a meal, rec­om­mended by for­mer Ravens player Tor­rey Smith, the day of the game. Mr. Jack­son, it turns out, was in search of ba­nana pud­ding, though the restau­rant was out. Still, the ex­cite­ment of him and other Ravens play­ers making the visit be­came the talk of Bal­ti­more so­cial me­dia. The pic­tures and videos of Mr. Jack­son greet­ing cus­tomers, com­fort­able in his own skin and with res­i­dents in his new home, said it all. The fan­dom was full-blown. Mr. Jack­son wasn’t just an NFL player, but Bal­ti­more’s quar­ter­back. Sadly, the tide of ex­cite­ment changed to mock­ery and all out dis­re­spect af­ter Satur­day’s loss, as some be­gan to blame the car­ry­out owner for Mr. Jack­son and oth­ers play­ing their most un­der­whelm­ing game all sea­son. The feed­back was swift, dis­taste­ful and heart­break­ing.

This sce­nario says so much about Bal­ti­more. We needed the Ravens to win be­cause we needed a win against the dis­parag­ing at­ti­tudes we of­ten have about our­selves as much as the ever present vi­o­lence that plagues our city and con­science. We are fight­ing for our humanity. Now more than ever, we needed some­thing to re­mind us of our best selves. Some might say that this psy­cho­log­i­cal at­tach­ment to a foot­ball team is un­healthy, un­jus­ti­fied and un­re­al­is­tic. I beg to dif­fer. Sports in­spires us and brings peo­ple to­gether in ways that po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and in­sti­tu­tional lead­er­ship can­not. The game teaches life lessons about the value of preparatio­n and skill, the ne­ces­sity of de­feat and the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of de­ter­mi­na­tion to never give up. A win­ning team gives us all some­thing to feel good about.

When this at­tach­ment is deemed only as fa­nat­i­cal, I be­lieve the crit­i­cism di­min­ishes the power that sports can have on help­ing peo­ple to be­lieve that the hu­man spirit can be vic­to­ri­ous. With Bal­ti­more’s mur­der rate at its high­est and mo­rale at its low­est, we need ex­am­ples of how to beat the odds to live, love and win. Noth­ing gets our blood rush­ing and our wheels turn­ing like the thought of over­com­ing the odds.

So this place that we are in, feels new and it is dif­fer­ent. We can’t let go of the win­ning spirit the Raven’s brought to the city, even if the team is no longer in the play­offs. In or­der to gain from the new, we must put to rest the demons of the old to make it through the tran­si­tion suc­cess­fully. Our minds must change. Our at­ti­tudes must im­prove. We must see our­selves as cham­pi­ons, not out of van­ity, but based on the pos­si­bil­ity that in spite of a year of record-break­ing vi­o­lence and mur­ders, we can still have a sea­son of record-break­ing peace with an MVP level of humanity.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Ravens’ La­mar Jack­son runs against the Ten­nessee Ti­tans in the first quar­ter Satur­day.

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