His name is Ron Friedman. If you’re a listener to Glenn Clark Radio or just about any show in recent Baltimore sports talk history, you know him as “Ron in Owings Mills.”
Ron has carved out his little piece of the Baltimore sports talk (and Twitter) lore for his sometimes paranoid, typically glass-half-empty approach. Not always, to be clear. Ron is happy to call at times and tell you that he’s actually quite happy with the Ravens after certain games and certain moves. But he regularly has head coach John Harbaugh and others in his crosshairs.
As a talk show host, I genuinely like Ron. He’s passionate and he’s not faking it. We don’t always agree. But he adds something to a show. I don’t actually typically take “calls” on GCR. But I gave Ron the hotline number some time ago and told him he could call whenever he’d like. But until last week, I had never met him! We happen to both be tennis fans and we managed to meet up at the ATP Tour stop in D.C. As we were chatting, Ron asked me about Lamar Jackson’s situation, as he had yet to return to the practice field after a positive COVID-19 test. He began his next sentence the following way:
“I know you’re not allowed to criticize Lamar with Ravens fans …”
I kept thinking about those words because they reflected a range of emotions I’ve felt this summer about the most prominent athlete our city has known since Ray Lewis.
I think Ron is right … sorta. I think there are a number of Ravens fans that are overly defensive of Lamar Jackson. And I get it. I completely and totally understand why the scrutiny the man has faced at every turn of his football career has led to Ravens fans feeling defensive and protective and aggressive in the face of even the slightest Lamar Jackson scrutiny.
The man is one of the most remarkable athletes in the world (non-Olympics sports climbing category) and yet for some reason no one seems to want to LET HIM LIVE! I’ve spent a good amount of PressBoxOnline.com bandwidth trying to encourage you to eliminate the “loud for the sake of it” talkers from your life. The hosts on ESPN and Fox Sports 1 are oftentimes to sports what a Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow is to politics. Their opinions aren’t genuine. They find something that might score points with their audience and they milk it as much as they possibly can.
My eternal suggestion is to simply eliminate that content from your life. I can attest that it will improve your life significantly.
But I get it. Even not watching or listening to certain shows can’t protect you from the insanity of this world. I do not follow Skip Bayless on Twitter. But enough people I do follow retweet or “like” his content and I want to Rob Gronkowski-spike my phone into the ground every time he pops up in my feed. It’s as unavoidable as that friend whose pointless texts you’ve ignored all year is at a cookout.
I don’t visit ProFootballTalk.com daily. I don’t watch or listen to any of Mike Florio’s shows. I have no issue with them, I’ve had a pleasant relationship with Mike throughout the years, I just don’t care for that type of content. Yet somehow, when I was ON VACATION in July, I came across his absolutely insane “Lamar Jackson shouldn’t be playing with kids” take. I know we typically offer links to these types of things but boy I hope our editor Luke Jackson chooses not to do that here because I do not want to offer even one more click to this.
You know the opinion — it was mindlessly shared and discussed by many throughout the sports media spectrum. At a charity event in Florida, the former MVP ran some football drills with kids on a basketball hard court. The “take” suggests that because it puts Jackson at some sort of risk of injury, it’s stupid and he shouldn’t do it. But that qualification should be reserved for the people who were thinking about sharing such criticism.
My friend A.J. Francis (Maryland) spent five years in the NFL. During one of those offseasons, he came home and attended an annual party I host at my house. As part of that party, we set up a 100-foot slip-and-slide with a game of flip cup at the bottom. Because we’re clever, we call in “Slip Cup.” Thanks in part to his size, A.J. is quite good at this game. And thanks to my stupidity, I asked him, “Hey man, aren’t you worried about getting hurt?” His response: “I’m a professional football player. Do you really think I’m at greater risk on your slip-and-slide than I am doing anything else we do?”
His point was well taken. Injuries happen to athletes. In the same way that Terrell Suggs could get hurt on a basketball court, he could also get hurt while getting out of bed. But for some insane reason, we criticized him for getting hurt while playing basketball, despite it perhaps being a good way for him to stay in shape for football season.
Lamar Jackson wasn’t putting himself at any greater risk that day. The man participates in a sport where hits are compared to car crashes. He was absolutely fine on that basketball court. He’s not like us. He’s not the problem. Because we’re stupids, if Jackson got hurt on the court we’d call him a “knucklehead,” but if he got hurt walking to his car we’d call it a “freak accident.” But the risk is roughly the same!
By working out with those kids in Florida, Jackson represented himself well and deserved praise. He put himself at no greater risk than a typical day of training might. That type of column, of course, wouldn’t get a ton of clicks on ProFootballTalk.com. I’m PRETTY sure Mike Florio knows that. He’s not stupid. He’s a participant in a moment in media history that rewards the outrageous.
But that doesn’t mean we always need to rush to Jackson’s defense, either.
There’s no getting around how frustrating the quarterback’s apparent unwillingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine is. There is perhaps still a chance that Jackson might be somehow immunocompromised to the point that he cannot get vaccinated. Recent misinformation he chose to share (and then delete) on social media suggests that’s probably not the case and it’s more a case, like a number of Americans, of “I just don’t want to.”
Jackson will speak to the media for the first time since his diagnosis this week but will almost certainly take the “personal choice” easy way out that most other athletes have taken when they’re not exactly sure how to justify their decision to not get a vaccine.
(The next time someone asks me why I’m not wearing any clothes at a local park, I’m gonna try that “personal choice” thing. And what do I mean “next time?” I didn’t say that. You did.)
To be clear, of COURSE no one HAS to get a vaccine. But Lamar Jackson isn’t “anyone.” He’s the most important player on a football team (by far) and he’s critical to their success. While players who have been vaccinated could still test positive, they are able to return to the team after two negative tests. Unvaccinated players have to miss 10 days no matter their symptoms/testing.
This isn’t a personal issue. This is a football issue. While Jackson has the right to prioritize his personal interests over the goals of his team, it must be clear that, well, that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s running the risk of this becoming an issue not only during training camp but again before a significant game this season. Or a playoff game. Or the Super Bowl.
Some players will inevitably lose their jobs because of their vaccination decisions. Teams have no choice but to prioritize “availability” when making decisions for roster spots. Lamar Jackson, of course, will not be one of those players. If he flatly refuses to get vaccinated, there’s simply nothing the Ravens can do about it.
But unlike the day he spent with kids in Florida or the explosive plays he makes with his feet that make some football fans uncomfortable for whatever reason, he deserves to be criticized for it. (Again, unless there’s something we don’t know.)
It’s OK to criticize Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. We just have to do it when it’s justified and not just when we’re desperate for attention.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox