Eisenberg: Real-Life Matters Will Test Focus

HC John Harbaugh & QB Lamar Jackson

As you might imagine for someone who offers opinions on the Ravens for public consumption, I hear from a lot of fans about a lot of things.

One sent me what I thought was an unusual question last week after the team posted its powerful statement on social justice in response to events unfolding in Kenosha, Wis.

The question: Are the Ravens more focused now on being leaders for social justice reform or staying healthy amid the coronavirus pandemic?

Had to admit I hadn't thought about that as an either-or.

Had it been posed a year ago, the question surely would have been dismissed as the ravings of a person with a dangerously overheated imagination. A coronavirus pandemic? Is Stephen King writing this? And since when does an NFL organization so publicly embrace social reform?

But many of our realities have been altered in the past year, to say the least, and the fan's question is grounded in fact in September 2020 as the NFL prepares for a season unlike any of the century's worth that preceded it.

I can't answer the question, of course. There's no doubt the Ravens are focused on how best to use their prominence to combat systemic racism. They're also intent on following the various protocols designed to keep them healthy and keep the coronavirus out of their locker room. Their season of great expectations hinges on it.

Both are life-and-death issues, yes, far weightier than football. It's hardly fair to ask the players which is their priority and I wouldn't dare suggest a consensus exists in the locker room. They care about it all.

But while the fan's question isn't answerable, it does illustrate the unique situation the Ravens are in. They're a football team, after all. They play a game for a living. They might be swept up in important, real-life matters, but in the end, their job is to focus on trying to win.

It isn't the easiest task when you're being tested for a virus every day, talking to teammates through masks and occupied with thoughts about how to advance a vital social cause.

You know Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and his staff are intent on making sure the players keep their eyes on the prize. And to be clear, I'm not suggesting a problem exists. I'm just pointing out the other matters aren't going anywhere and certainly constitute an unusual challenge to any team's ability to focus.

The Ravens already have pledged to continue their social justice efforts through the season, as Calais Campbell noted in a Zoom call with reporters.

"This is a unique time whereas a lot of people are paying attention to what we've got going on right now in the Black community. I feel like some real change can happen, and we have to continue to push actionable items and just never let the conversation go quiet," Campbell said.

The pandemic also surely will continue to be a factor through the season even though the NFL has thus far excelled at limiting the virus in its population.

Fortunately for the Ravens, they have plenty of weapons to tap in the battle to remain focused – if such a battle truly exists.

For starters, Harbaugh is masterful at walking the fine line between getting his point across and also making sure the players' points are heard and respected.

There's also plenty of mature locker room leadership from such players as Campbell, a formidable veteran presence; Ronnie Stanley, a level-headed force with great perspective; and Lamar Jackson, who is all about playing winning football.

Players have raved about the safety measures the organization has put in place and deeply appreciate the backing of the front office, starting with the owner, on social justice reform.

"This is definitely a first-class organization that just encourages you to be yourself and be the best version of yourself," Campbell said.

Does that sound like a leader of a team that might lose focus? I don't think so.

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