Before I get into my thoughts on the increasing number of empty seats at Ravens home games, I want to make it clear that I am not speaking as the associate editor of PressBox; I'm speaking as a diehard Ravens fan who has been a season-ticket holder since Day One.
I don't know that I've ever been as disappointed watching a Ravens game as I was for the "Monday Night Football" contest between the Ravens and Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium Nov. 27, and my feelings had nothing to do with the game itself.
For more than two decades a Ravens home game meant an electric atmosphere and a sea of purple in the stadium. However, despite this being the Ravens' first Monday night home game in five years, the lack of excitement in the air was unmistakable, and this time the sea of purple was of empty seats. Thousands upon thousands of empty seats.
I've heard the excuses: Monday night games don't end until close to midnight and people have to get up early for work and school; the Texans aren't a marquee opponent; this Ravens team just isn't fun to watch.
Pretty pathetic for a so-called football town. Ravens fans should be better than this.
It's not like Monday's game was an aberration either. There were more no-shows than usual, but seeing thousands of empty seats at Ravens games has become commonplace this season.
For many Ravens fans, it seems their purple passion has been replaced by apathy -- and in some cases, even antipathy. I just don't get it.
It's not like the Ravens are a horrible team. While I wouldn't consider them Super Bowl contenders, they've got a winning record (6-5) and currently own the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture. That said, I won't disagree with any Ravens fan who says the team's inept passing game makes them hard to watch at times.
But what the Ravens' record is and where they rank offensively shouldn't matter anyway. Being a true fan of a team is a lot like a marriage -- you love and support them in good times and bad, for better or worse until death do us part (unless you decide to be buried wearing your team's jersey, which doesn't sound like a bad idea).
This certainly isn't the first Ravens team to have a good defense and not-so-good offense. And yet even in the days of Stoney Case and Anthony Mitchell and when the team had losing seasons, the stadium was packed. So why isn't it now?
And that brings us to the elephant in the room.
A lot of people across the country soured on the NFL after players around the league took a knee during the national anthem in Week 3 to protest racial inequality in response to President Donald Trump saying in a speech that owners should fire players who protest.
Videos surfaced on social media of NFL fans -- including some in Baltimore -- burning their team gear. There was even a petition to remove the Ray Lewis statue from outside M&T Bank Stadium because the former Ravens great was among those kneeling in London when the Ravens played the Jacksonville Jaguars.
A number of Ravens fans -- some who are friends of mine -- vowed to give up their season tickets and to not even watch the games on TV. Judging by all the empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium during the past four games, it appears they've followed through on at least the first part. (Of course, it's easier to stay away when the team is mediocre; I wonder how filled the stadium would be if the Ravens were 10-1.)
I respect everyone's opinion on the anthem protests regardless of which side they're on. But what I'm having a really hard time with is that this is the issue that crosses the line for some Ravens fans.
They didn't stop supporting the Ravens when Lewis plead guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with a double murder; or when Terrell Suggs was accused of domestic abuse on multiple occasions; or when Ray Rice was charged with assaulting his then-fiancee (now wife); or when they signed Donte Stallworth, who had accepted a plea deal after being charged with DUI manslaughter.
I find it curious that it took players taking a knee for these fans to take a stand. I'm sorry, but if you looked the other way when the aforementioned incidents took place, you can't take the moral high ground now, especially when the kneeling players made it clear that their intention was not to disrespect the flag or the military. Well, you can, but you'll come off looking like a hypocrite -- or worse.
I'm old enough to remember how heartbreaking it was when the Colts left Baltimore in 1984 and how empty it felt to not have an NFL team here for 12 years. I also remember how excited this city was when it finally got another team. I never would've believed so many fans would end up taking the Ravens for granted, especially once the team became perennial contenders and two-time Super Bowl champions.
Whether the Ravens win or lose, or the players stand or kneel, I will always bleed purple. As for the Ravens fans who have stopped going to the games, they've shown their true colors as well.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Oleisky