Is Zero Tolerance Now ‘The Ravens Way’?

Street Talk Is Zero Tolerance Now ‘The Ravens Way’?

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Drew Kordula just authored an excellent piece on the precedent the Ravens are setting with their treatment of legal transgressions this offseason. Therein, he opines that if a more productive or integral player gets in trouble with the law, it will be problematic for the Ravens’ new, seemingly zero-tolerance approach. I am equally hopeful as he that we aren’t confronted with that circumstance.

But I am more concerned with the underlying philosophy to which the Ravens have shifted.

Remember Bam Morris? I do, and I was only eleven when I first watched a crowd at Memorial Stadium erupt with his name, when he was toting the rock. Bam came to the Ravens after being cut by the Steelers for a guilty plea to felony possession of marijuana (a reported six pounds). Bam lasted in Baltimore for two years amid continuing substance abuse issues and suspensions (even reporting to prison for a violation of his plea deal).

And the narrative proceeds accordingly throughout the Ravens’ history.

Baltimore historically has been unafraid of players with questionable pasts, and has been willing to work through issues players confront while wearing the Purple and Black. There are certainly limits to the organization’s goodwill and patience, but compassion and redemption have been the Ravens’ calling card.

I can’t even count how many times I have heard the Wizard of Oz reference second chances. I think he is a masterful GM, but I sincerely believe that his greatest gift is not evaluating personnel, but engaging personnel. As a former player, his talents as a mentor and counselor set an institutional tone that helps elevate players to something greater than themselves when they don the Ravens’ uniform.

At this year’s State of the Ravens press conference the predictable sound bite about second chances was noticeably absent. It was, in fact, replaced by an explicit acknowledgement that the landscape of NFL discipline is changing.

But I’m concerned about just how willing the Ravens are to change with it.

Before cutting Ray Rice, the Ravens were unified behind the sentiment of hating the sin but loving the sinner. That was a difficult stance to take because it meant absorbing the criticism of both individuals and powerful organizations, and possibly even jeopardizing endorsement and other moneymaking opportunities. But it also represented a commitment to rehabilitate occasionally troubled young men, and to help them become better people in the context of being well-compensated athletes representing the city of Baltimore.

Mr. Bisciotti himself indicated that he hoped that the impact of the Rice incident-elevating the profile of domestic violence issues, and catalyzing money and education to eliminate it from society-would be the ultimate legacy of the scandal.

That’s important. That’s the Ravens Way. We do not expect perfection. We expect the common drive to be better on and off the field every day.

And it often works to the mutual benefit of the team and the city.

It is, on the one hand, why the Jimmy Smiths of the league can tumble down draft boards and then prove themselves to be capable, mature adults (with a periodic bump in the road, of course) as Baltimore Ravens. It is also why the Kendrick Lewises can reach out to the Michael Ohers and feel confident about the family atmosphere and supportive chemistry of the Ravens’ locker room.

That reputation is powerful, and it makes me feel proud whenever someone departs the organization with favorable things to report on his experience. It also gives me confidence that the Ravens can continue to implement their bargain-driven free agency model because athletes feel secure in the stability, honesty, and support the Ravens provide on top of the dollars and cents.

But that reputation is not just built on the backs of good people who work hard. It means having the courage to still show compassion when it is hard to do so. Let me be clear, I am not saying the Ravens should not have cut Ray Rice or Bernard Pierce or other players past, present, or future. I am saying they should continue to respond in the Ravens Way.

An arrested player remaining on the roster can tarnish the Ravens, no doubt. But compromising the institutional principle of redemption that has produced so many good Samaritans who love Baltimore while creating and maintaining momentum to attract more players, who will do the same, is far worse.

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Mark Weingram

About Mark Weingram

Mark is originally an Owings Mills native who, at the peak of his athletic prowess, warmed the bench for the McDonogh Eagles’ football team. Too fond of the Maryland area to leave for college, he enrolled at the Naval Academy. After six and a half years of active duty service in the Marine Corps, Mark resigned his commission and is currently figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up. This is his first adventure in journalism, but he is seasoned in defending strong opinions about all things Baltimore, and particularly our pro sports. He currently lives in DC, where he is thankful every Sunday that the Washington franchise appears on Fox, so that he can find his cherished Ravens on CBS no matter who is featured in the national broadcast.

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