Eisenberg: The Ravens Can, And Will, Make a Difference

BLM protests in Baltimore, MD

Call me an old hippie, but I think there's beauty in a peaceful protest. The ability to speak your mind is one of the inalienable rights of being an American. It's in the constitution. You can look it up.

So there's beauty in what's happening across the country and around the world in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis. No one is condoning the violence that also arose, but it sure seems there are exponentially more non-violent protestors.

Nonetheless, the scene is still incalculably frustrating because what people are speaking their minds about is a tired refrain. There've been protests about racial inequality for decades, but to use a football analogy, those protests haven't moved the ball much. So here we are again.

Pro football players and teams are just bit players in what is, for many, a life-and-death matter – far more important than any game.

But as prominent as they are – and they're popular throughout America's broader spectrum of race, culture and class – players and teams are inevitably drawn into weightier issues. What they say and do is scrutinized and impactful.

It means they can make a difference.

The Ravens and their players certainly have walked the walk on social justice reform. Beyond the large donations that make headlines, they've volunteered in underserved communities for hundreds of hours, met with politicians to air grievances and advocated for measures such as the First Step Act, a landmark piece of federal criminal justice legislation signed into law in 2018.

Most of that work takes place without fanfare, but it's happening. And more initiatives are ongoing. At the risk of oversimplifying, a healthy percentage of the Ravens' players come from underserved communities. Although they have more money and prestige now, they certainly can relate to the forces that have driven such a widespread urge to protest.

The protests and riots Baltimore experienced five years ago were a transformative moment for the entire organization. The sound and fury in the streets dissipated, but not so the problems that produced that sound and fury. Those endured, signaling a call to action for those in position to make a difference in the city.

But while the efforts to date of the Ravens and their players are admirable, the current environment surely encourages them – and all of us – to do even more. The George Floyd-inspired protests are coming at a time unlike any I've seen, when more minds finally are opening to the difficult realities African-Americans live with.

Earlier this week, Monmouth University released an eye-opening poll on the protests. A majority of Americans (57%) said police officers facing a difficult or dangerous situation were more likely to use excessive force if the culprit was black. Only 34 percent felt that way four years ago.

The poll also found 49 percent of white Americans said police were more likely to use excessive force against blacks. That's nearly double the figure from four years ago.

Regardless of what you think of those percentages, the needle suddenly is moving significantly.

"It seems we have reached a turning point in public opinion where white Americans are realizing that black Americans face risks when dealing with police that they do not. They may not agree with the violence of recent protests, but many whites say they understand where that anger is coming from," said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute.

Greater understanding offers a greater opportunity for substantive change.

The country wasn't ready for it four years ago when Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the national anthem to protest exactly what's being protested today to far wider understanding. The narrative was hijacked and transformed into a polarizing referendum on patriotism.

Four years later, when Drew Brees brought up that same, polarizing referendum in an interview earlier this week, he was excoriated for missing the point of why so many are protesting, with the blowback so fierce he immediately apologized.

In a changing environment, I know the Ravens and their players will continue to do what they can to make a difference. I hope everyone does.

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