Ravens fans going to game with mixed emotions

Video footage changes perceptions about Rice, and about the actions of team and league

September 10, 2014|By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun

Now Andrew Stephenson can go to the Ravens game Thursday night. So there's that.

But after video surfaced this week of running back Ray Rice punching his fiancee unconscious, the Baltimore lawyer says, cheering the home team at M&T Bank Stadium isn't going to be the same — and probably won't be for a while.

"We'll all be there, feeling a bit ashamed," said Stephenson, 39, who earlier this week appeared to be willing to forgo his share of season tickets, which his firm has held since 1996.

"The season is marred with a terrible stench. This season will be remembered for this."

Stephenson decided he would attend after the Ravens cut Rice on Monday following the release of security camera footage from an Atlantic City casino. Thursday's game against the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers marks the team's first appearance since celebrity gossip website TMZ.com brought the video to light.

Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl player, a key member of the 2013 Super Bowl champions and a fan favorite, had been considered a solid citizen until the February incident.

"It seems like I shouldn't be getting excited for a football game, because there's this huge issue right now," said John Woodard, 24, a lifelong fan from White Marsh who bought his tickets before the video was made public. "It almost feels like it's inappropriate."

Season-ticket holder Laura Roth, 42, of Rockville, plans to attend the game with her husband but hopes there aren't any incidents.

"I'm going to be going to just watch the football game," she said. "I don't know if anyone will show up wearing [Rice] jerseys."

In an interview Wednesday with The Baltimore Sun, Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome said the team expects a period of uncertainty with its fan base.

"No doubt, it's going to be a process," he said. "But we will accept the challenge. We will work to gain the trust of all our fans, our sponsors, our suite holders. We will do our very best. Will we be able to get 100 percent of them back? Probably not. But we will do everything in our power to try and accomplish it."

The week has been a roller-coaster ride for Ravens fans. Some defended Rice after he was charged with assault in the February incident. Some hoped he could get counseling, serve his punishment — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially suspended him for two games — learn from the experience and return to power through opposing defenses for years to come.

But seeing the incident on tape led some to reassess their feelings. Roth, a Rice fan, says she believes in second chances. But she was disturbed by the footage.

"He doesn't just hit her. He punches her," she said. "The brutality of what appeared on that videotape was more than I imagined.

"And then his callousness — he had no concern for her whatsoever, from the appearance of this tape. He just dragged her out. That's what bothers me even more, is just his total lack of regard for her."

Woodard says the light initial punishment — the two-game suspension was less than players have received for smoking marijuana; authorities in New Jersey, where Rice played college football for Rutgers, dropped the criminal charges and sent him to counseling — might have given fans a false impression of the incident.

"We all knew that he did something bad," Woodard said. "But maybe it wasn't that bad.

"I was kind of excited that when he came back from the two-game suspension, he's going to come back and dominate."

But after seeing the video, Woodard said, "I couldn't defend him anymore."

Alfonso Bell said Rice's actions were "atrocious" — but the reaction of the Ravens and the NFL was "abysmal."

The 39-year-old Essex man, who says he has attended every Ravens home game since they came to Baltimore, said the league should have "come out hard," with a suspension of six to eight games, and then stuck with it.

Bell says he won't be thinking about the developments of the week at the game on Thursday.

"It does affect my view of the organization — which until now, I would say, has been an impeccable example of what an organization should be. This is totally not what you would expect from what the Ravens have shown historically."

After Stephenson saw the video, he vowed to boycott the season.

"It was absolutely disgusting," he said.

When the Ravens cut Rice later Monday — "they had no choice," Stephenson said — he relented: He'll go to the game, after all.

"I'm going to go in there feeling as if I've got my tail between my legs," he said. "Feeling a little bit sheepish at being a Ravens fan. And that's not giving me value for money.

"You want to get into a real mood with the Steelers. Big rivalry. Everybody wants to get pumped up. There's a good bit of back-and-forth that goes on," he said.

"I want to be proud, and I want to be aggressive, and I want to be able to really get behind my team. I don't want to feel like, 'Oh, this is a little bit embarrassing. My team's a total shame.'"

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

twitter.com/matthewhaybrown

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