For nearly a decade now, the Baltimore sports community has seen first-hand an interesting juxtaposition between the two gentlemen who own the primary teams in town.
The football owner, Steve Bisciotti, has clearly been the local favorite, mixing what appears on the surface to be a charming, refreshingly honest approach to owning a sports team. He has often categorized himself as just a blue jeans wearin’ kind of guy (who happens to have a billion or so dollars) who is sitting in the ownership office and working for you, the folks who buy the tickets.
Peter Angelos has owned the baseball team in Baltimore since 1993. He hasn’t had any kind of public press conference or made himself available to the local media en masse in well over fifteen years.
The two, Bisciotti and Angelos, couldn’t be any more different in their approach to running their franchise as it relates to the public role the owner takes on.
I’m not going to suggest that Angelos has been doing it right and Bisciotti has been doing it wrong. Each of their ownership tenures have been hugely successful in the one area that matters most to them — increasing the overall value of the (sports) company so that when they sell it someday, the return on their investment is worthy of the time and money they put into it.
What I am suggesting, though, is this: It’s time for Steve Bisciotti to re-evaluate the way he interacts — as an owner — with the Ravens, the media and the fans.
Simply put: Bisciotti might have lost his way.
This hasn’t happened overnight.
For a while now, there have been elements of his ownership style that have been curiously awkward. If you have watched him operate even casually, you’ve seen the favoritism showed to certain players, the courtside seats and knuckle-bumps at University of Maryland basketball games, and the on-field meet-and-greet with players prior to home games in Baltimore.
It’s created a picture, over time, of an owner who has probably lost sight of what he does vs. what the players do. And, as the recent Ray Rice situation has displayed in hi-def — and admitted to by Bisciotti — it’s created a scenario where the personal relationship between owner and employee has clouded the organization’s ability to make the right call on personnel decisions that seem far more simple and “no brainer” to those of us on the outside looking in.
A decade ago when I was doing a local sports talk radio show, I would openly chastise Bisciotti for taking Ray Lewis, Adalius Thomas, Ed Reed and others to the Comcast Center for Maryland basketball games.
It was the poorest message an owner could send to his organization: “I want to be seen with the stars.”
What did Kelly Gregg think when Ray Lewis was the one chosen to rub elbows and share limo rides with Bisciotti…and he wasn’t? How did it look to guys like Tommy Polley when the owner walked past him in the halls of Ravens stadium and then asked Adalius Thomas to buzz down to College Park on Tuesday night to watch the Terps and Duke?
There’s certainly nothing at all wrong with a sports owner having a personal relationship with his players. But, that embrace should be widespread, enveloping everyone, not just the ones who make the most plays on Sunday afternoon. This, of course, overflows into the area that Bisciotti’s fandom touches most — coaching.
There’s no doubt that both John Harbaugh and Brian Billick, while never publicly admitting it, wouldn’t ever approve of the owner singling out individual players for gold-star treatment away from the field. It defeats the very “team theme” coaches preach in all sports.
The Ray Rice saga has unfortunately created a need for Bisciotti to be front and center. Some of this, frankly, isn’t Steve’s fault. While Ozzie Newsome has been an outstanding General Manager, his reluctance to speak with the media and have an open dialogue with the local and national press has forced the owner into much more of a communicative role than the circumstances should warrant.
Monday’s press conference in which the owner defended the club and responded in part to the ESPN.com article of last Friday was vintage Steve Bisciotti. He’s an excellent speaker, calm under the gun and carefully replies to questions that would leave others apprehensive and gun shy. He’s believable because, for the most part, he’s honest to a fault. Most billionaires didn’t get that way by being snakes. I think when Steve Bisciotti speaks, you’re getting the best from him, or, at the very least, the best of what he’s allowed to say at that given moment.
I admire Bisciotti for taking the stand — for lack of a better term — and facing the media on Monday. The Orioles have had numerous run-ins with steroids, performance enhancing drugs, the suicide of a former employee and player suspensions — including earlier this month with Chris Davis — and the owner of the club hasn’t held a press conference one time to allow for questions surrounding those circumstances.
So, if you’re asking me whether I’d rather have an owner who’s out in front and speaks to the press or one that doesn’t, give me the guy willing to take a few bullets along the way any day. But, too much is too much. And over the last four or five years, I feel like we’ve seen and heard too often from the Ravens owner.
At one point, the Ravens had a steadfast rule. “Steve Bisciotti speaks one time, and one time only. It’s at our end-of-season state-of-the-Ravens press conference.”
If you’re asking me, Bisciotti should go back to that declaration and stick with it.
In the case of Rice, no matter what private role he established in the situation, Bisciotti should have simply said to CBS, The Sun, and anyone else looking for a piece of him: “Guys, I have a team in place that runs my football organization. Their record speaks for itself. If you want comment from the Ravens, they’re the ones to give it to you.”
Instead, a few days after the 9/8 “knockout video” was released, Bisciotti, Dick Cass and Ozzie Newsome all sat down with the Baltimore Sun for a Q & A session. What came out of that was a complete mixed bag of opinions from three people who were at the center of the story. Newsome telling the Sun “Ray didn’t lie to me”, Cass saying “what we thought we were going to see on that video tape wasn’t what we were told we were going to see” and Bisciotti saying “We kind of heard what we wanted to hear and imagined what we wanted to imagine because we loved Ray.”
Three very different messages.
Bisciotti, to his credit, has openly apologized and admitted “we got it wrong” in the club’s investigation of Ray Rice. I applauded him for reaching out to the fans on 9/9 and sending a public letter of apology because it was the right thing to do.
There are cases and situations — when the club is making contact with its fan base, sponsors, etc. — that the owner absolutely has the right to be involved in communicating with them.
One of the more curious things to come out of last week’s ESPN.com investigation were the text messages Bisciotti sent (and confirmed by the Ravens) to Ray Rice the day he was released. In short, Bisciotti thanked Rice for his contributions to the club and effectively pledged post-football employment to him.
This, again, dovetails into the category of “too much involvement” between the owner and the player.
I’m just spitballing on these two things, so I could be wrong, but my common sense approach knows the answer to these questions:
Do Albert McClellan, Rick Wagner and DeAngelo Tyson have Bisciotti’s cell phone number?
Do Matt Wieters, Adam Jones or J.J. Hardy have “Peter Angelos” in their cell phone?
My guess on those questions: The answers are “no”. And “no”.
If Steve Bisciotti wants to have a “key contact information” sheet distributed at the beginning of the season and give every single player on the roster his cell phone number, that’s one thing.
Having ultra-personal relationships with certain players, though, clouds the judgment of an owner, as Bisciotti admitted to in the Rice case.
Coming down on the field prior to games and “holding court” is something Bisciotti does regularly. It’s unnecessary. It’s a distraction, potentially. It’s just not something that a head coach wants on game day, even though Harbaugh always flashes a smile and man-hugs his boss while he straddles the 50 yard line during warm-ups.
Is the owner going down there on their field before the game in any way a “contribution” to the players and the coaching staff? Is he merely showing support for them? If so, let’s quickly re-evaluate what’s happening at 11:30 am on a Sunday. It’s game day. The players are in survival mode, now. The owner walking over to you while you’re stretching and saying, “have a great game out there today” doesn’t mean a hill of beans when A.J. Green is blazing down the field and you’re trying to cover him.
It’s yet another case of just being involved a little too much, publicly. I know Bisciotti isn’t the only owner in the league who goes down to the field before the game and glad-hands with the players and waves to a people in the crowd.
I also know he’s smart enough to realize, deep down, that his presence on the 50 yard line before the game has zero value at all and could, more than anything, serve as a distraction rather than an aid.
Like a song from Carrie Underwood that both country and pop stations can play, Bisciotti has crossed over from “the owner who gets it” to “the guy that forgot he’s JUST the owner”. It’s a fine line, admittedly. You didn’t get where you got, so to speak, by being dumb and making stupid decisions. It’s not like Bisciotti has wrecked his franchise or anything. But, there have been cracks in the Ravens’ wall over the last decade that can be traced back to the owner and his evolving style and the Ray Rice case is proof positive of that.
You would think, as the caretaker of HIS business and the desire he must have to see his club be portrayed favorably in public, that Bisciotti, of all people, would have been the guy to stand up last February and say, “Well, look guys, I know he’s a good football player and everything, but we just can’t have Ray Rice on the team anymore. Now, because I’m the owner and you’re the football experts, tell me why I’m nuts. I’ll listen.”
That would have been easy for an owner who hasn’t crafted a unique relationship with his players to do.
Instead, it would appear as if Bisciotti championed Rice’s cause while, perhaps, his football guy (Harbaugh) said, “I don’t think I want Ray on my football team anymore.”
Steve Bisciotti was always different and I think most people appreciated that about him. He spoke once a year, caught everyone up to speed with what he thought about certain issues and that was that. “See ya next year, Steve.”
Over time, though, it’s become apparent that perhaps the owner has become a little too involved in the one area he always pledged he WOULDN’T be involved: football.
From taking players to games, to hugging them on the sideline, to having the quarterback put his feet up on his desk and say, “You better pay me now or you’re in a heap of trouble when I win the Super Bowl”…Steve Bisciotti’s involvement may be hurting rather than helping, now.
He’s a smart, smart man.
As he always likes to remind us, “I (he) didn’t make my money in football. I made it somewhere else so that I could spend it on football.”
And, he knows also, that football isn’t his area of expertise. He might be best served to reduce his time in the spotlight and let his football people do their thing.
If you’re asking me, it was always better for him and the team when he did that.
Drew’s Morning Dish is available for you daily, including weekends, at www.drewsmorningdish.blogspot.com. It’s a morning offering of sports thoughts, including Ravens, Orioles, NFL, MLB, PGA Tour, etc. Please give it a look!