A troubling week for Baltimore sports fans

Rice's release, Davis' suspension cast shadow over hopes

  • Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis is congratulated after scoring against the Boston Red Sox.
Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis is congratulated after… (David Butler II / USA Today…)
September 13, 2014|By Childs Walker | The Baltimore Sun

Just seven days ago, Baltimore's sports fans, the faithful clad in orange and purple, were brimming with optimism.

The Ravens were set to open what they hoped would be a bounce-back season with star running back Ray Rice due to return at the end of the week from a two-game suspension for a domestic violence incident — a penalty roundly criticized as too light. The Orioles, meanwhile, were rolling toward a division title, leading their nearest rivals by a margin they hadn't enjoyed in decades.

But fans awoke to a nightmare Monday morning when TMZ posted video footage of Rice, a player once cherished for his civic conscience, felling his then-fiancee with a vicious punch; he was released by the team later in the day. On Friday, fans took an unexpected jolt from a different direction when Major League Baseball announced a 25-game suspension of Orioles infielder Chris Davis for amphetamine use.

The roller-coaster week left fans deeply disappointed in both stars. Scenes of Rice's action triggered widespread disgust. Davis' suspension sparked concern that he violated league rules, will miss much of the playoffs and might jeopardize the team's chances of winning in baseball's postseason.

"Not a good week for Baltimore," said Pat Powderly, 23, of Baltimore, who watched the Orioles play the New York Yankees on Friday afternoon from the center-field bar at Camden Yards.

That darkened mood spread quickly among Baltimore fans and players. The Rice video had an even broader impact, triggering a storm of criticism and thrusting the city into the midst of a nationwide debate about the NFL's priorities and cultural attitudes regarding violence against women.

The Ravens gave loyalists a moment to exhale with a victory Thursday night over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. But even as fans happily parsed the particulars the next morning, they found out that their baseball team would be without Davis until deep in the playoffs — should the team advance that far.

Like Rice, Davis is a magnetic figure whose jersey, No. 19, is a frequent sight around the city. He had exceeded modest expectations, hitting a franchise-record 53 home runs last season and delivering staunch words against drug use in baseball when critics expressed suspicions that he might be using steroids.

Now, he's the latest face of baseball's seemingly never-ending drug saga, and talk of the Orioles' impending title in the American League East seems an afterthought, at least for the moment.

The assessment of Lou Zachman, a 40-year-old banker from Baltimore, was typical among fans watching the Orioles on Friday. "All you heard was Ray Rice. Now all you'll hear is Chris Davis."

Losing their luster

For the Ravens, the road to a painful week began many months ago.

As confetti rained on the field in New Orleans in the waning hours of Feb. 3, 2013, life seemed nearly perfect for anyone who cared about the team.

The Ravens had just won their second Super Bowl in the final game for the franchise's signature star, Ray Lewis. The day before, the team's first Baltimore draft pick, Jonathan Ogden, had been selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Ozzie Newsome, the architect of this model football operation, said it was a scenario so grand that no one would have dared write the script.

Rice was a key part of that championship team, and he represented everything the Ravens wanted from a player. The second-round draft pick had blossomed into the NFL's total yardage leader and embraced his role as a community role model through his anti-bullying activism.

That all began to change after Rice was charged with assault in an incident last February; authorities said he knocked his then-fiancee unconscious in the elevator of the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.

Team officials stood by Rice for six months after TMZ posted initial footage of him dragging Janay Palmer, who is now his wife, from the elevator. But that steadfastness, a trait many admired in the Ravens, turned against them. In an apologetic letter sent Tuesday to suite owners, seat license holders and sponsors, owner Steve Bisciotti wrote that his organization had not done enough to investigate the incident and that "no amount of explanation can remedy that."

The letter punctuated one of the lowest periods in the history of a team beloved by Baltimore fans and previously admired around the NFL for its stability and savvy.

Rice's actions and the team's reluctant response overshadowed all else. But the Ravens also endured a frustrating season on the field last season, failing to make the playoffs for the first time under coach John Harbaugh. After signing a $120 million contract, quarterback Joe Flacco had the worst season of his career.

Off the field, Rice was among the five Ravens players arrested in the offseason, the most on any NFL team. The Ravens also squabbled with the Orioles over conflicting game dates.

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