Ravens talk the talk

October 28, 2007|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,Sun reporter

Bart Scott, the Ravens' 27-year-old, loquacious linebacker, was sitting on a stool recently inside Della Rose's Avenue Tavern in Canton, nibbling at a plate of nachos, when something made him visibly annoyed.

An e-mail written by a fan.

"Your defense" - the note read, in part - "is a disgrace right now."

"A disgrace?" Scott said, twinges of anger and disgust building in his voice. "That's going a bit too far. Do I show up at that guy's job and call him a disgrace? I don't appreciate that."

Scott, whose personality is typically polite and playful, managed to laugh it off. But he couldn't resist adding one last comment.

"Tell that guy to call into the show," he said. "Tell him I want to talk to him."

As annoyed as Scott was, he also wanted to make something clear: On my radio show, I'm not afraid to say what I think and stand by it.

Scott isn't the only one. Athletes are taking to the airwaves with increasing frequency these days, connecting with fans, voicing their opinions and polishing their people skills while angling for future jobs in media after their careers are over. Radio stations are paying players big bucks (some rumored to be six-figure deals) for their appearances, hoping to build an audience and break news at the same time.

The airwaves have been especially crowded in Baltimore. Scott is one of five Ravens players with his own weekly radio show this season, a substantial increase from a year ago when just one player, former Raven Adalius Thomas, got behind the mike each week.

Before this season, ESPN Radio 1300, which stopped broadcasting Ravens games after 2005, signed deals with Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Willis McGahee and Scott to offer up their own takes on the state of the team. Derrick Mason has a program on the Ravens' AM flagship station, WBAL (1090).

Want to know what's going on with the Ravens? Call Scott's show, The Hot Sauce, and he says you'll get the answers, straight from the linebacker's mouth. No filter.

"I didn't want to do it at first," Scott said, referring to his weekly radio show, broadcast from Della Rose's with co-host Tony Lombardi. "But then I saw it as an opportunity to get my message out, get who I am out. It gives me an opportunity to brand myself and to position myself for life after football."

The full-scale media blitz hasn't gone unnoticed either, thanks to some recent controversy. Lewis, who has been with the franchise since its inception, didn't voice his frustration over the team's recent offensive play-calling in a news conference or a post-game interview with reporters. Instead, he avoided the typical channels a superstar has to publicly air his complaints and saved them for his own radio show, broadcast each Monday from his own restaurant, Full Moon Bar-B-Que in Canton.

It was, calculated or not, an impressive bit of synergy.

"You can't make oranges be peaches," Lewis said, his raspy voice dripping with frustration when asked about coach Brian Billick's short-yardage play-calling in the Ravens' 19-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills. "It doesn't change. It will never change. That's what Billick has to ask himself: why we keep putting ourselves in those situations.

"In the Cincinnati game, that cost us with those same decisions. My frustration is very simple. If you only need 1 yard, and you give their defense an opportunity by throwing the ball three straight times - if someone came into Baltimore and did that, we would say, `Thank you.' "

Billick chose to respond to Lewis' comments on The Brian Billick Show on WBAL, saying he didn't mind that Lewis had expressed his opinion and that he even agreed with him on some of his points. But he also said no one was exempt from criticism, again pointing to the Ravens' 11 penalties (including five offside infractions) and various blown assignments.

It made for an interesting week, with no shortage of ego and opinion to go around. Even as the controversy over Lewis' comments about Billick started to die down, things heated up again when Thomas, now a member of the New England Patriots, shot back at Lewis for calling him a coward later during that same show. Lewis' original comments about Thomas were in response to something Thomas said in Sports Illustrated about the Ravens' egocentric style of celebrating.

The sniping didn't exactly remind anyone of the Algonquin Round Table. (By the end of the week, Lewis' and Thomas' carping would have fit in nicely on any number of MTV reality shows about gossipy rich teenage socialites in Malibu.) But the radio shows, and the controversy they occasionally bring, are likely here to stay. The 24-hour media cycle is a beast, and it must constantly be fed. The teams, for the most part, like the exposure. For now.

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