After the Baltimore protests turned chaotic, John Angelos sat in his parked car late at night typing out tweet after tweet on his BlackBerry about the roots of the unrest.
The Twitter outpouring made the Orioles executive vice president and son of owner Peter Angelos an unexpected populist voice and defender of nonviolent demonstrators protesting the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained in police custody.
His 21 tweets were striking because sports team executives, often leery of alienating fans, rarely engage in unprovoked social or political discourse.
"Unprecedented as far as I know," sports sociologist Jay Coakley said of the commentary.
Angelos said he was drawn into the Twitter conversation April 25, when he noticed others discussing how protests were disrupting traffic around the ballpark.
"I just had a different view of the significance of what was going on," Angelos said. "Sporting events are fun. But they're not what the society is about and nor should they, in my view, become the focus, especially in extraordinary times where you've had people and families facing personal tragedies."
In the interest of public safety, the Orioles postponed two games, barred fans from attending another and switched a home series against the Tampa Bay Rays to St. Petersburg, Fla.
"The authorities felt that was the safe thing for the city. There was no cost-benefit analysis," said Angelos, who declined to speculate how much money the club lost.
He suggested that vendors may recoup lost wages but said it would be premature to detail how. "It would be a bad result for individuals who work for a living every day and rely on those checks from games to suffer financial hardship and not be made whole," he said.
The widely quoted tweets were surprising because Angelos, an attorney, and his family maintain a low profile when it comes to the franchise his father bought in 1993. The team on occasion has bucked baseball's establishment, such as when the owner ruled out using replacement players during the players' strike 20 years ago.
But this felt personal. The tweets would soon be widely parsed and debated and would cause media observers to look more closely at John Angelos, who said: "It was never on my mind to make news."
Angelos possesses a lawyer's reserve, often pausing to compose his thoughts. But, he said, the tweets weren't calculated.
"It was spontaneous," he said of the 319 words he wrote April 25 about lost jobs and economic "devastation" in sections of the city. The tweets — in reply to other Baltimoreans on the subject — followed protests that turned violent outside Camden Yards during an Orioles-Boston Red Sox game and elsewhere downtown. His defense of "opposition" movements did not extend to looters or vandals.
Angelos, a Gilman School, Duke University and University of Baltimore School of Law graduate who oversees the club's business affairs, rarely seeks out the media.
The 47-year-old jokes that few people even know how old he is.
"The media never covered anything I ever tweeted before, so I had no expectation of that," Angelos said. "I spoke for myself personally based on the fact that I've lived here my entire life. I thought that was an appropriate moment. I didn't let it go by, and I don't regret it."
His only discomfort about the tweets, he said, is that "I don't want to look like I'm upstaging events."
After days of peaceful protests following the death of Gray, looting and violence erupted April 25 and 27. Six Baltimore police officers now face criminal charges in the case.
In his tweets, Angelos wrote of the "the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the US to 3rd-world dictatorships like China."
Working families, he tweeted, have seen their lives and dreams "cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the bill of rights by government."
His commentary was quickly dissected by fans and the media.
Political activist Ralph Nader and ESPN commentator Keith Olbermann applauded Angelos, and NFL Hall of Fame player Thurman Thomas tweeted, "Thank you sir." In his Washington Post blog, Tufts University international politics professor Daniel W. Drezner agreed with the tweets in part but said Angelos overstated the effect of globalization on job loss.
Angelos said he received more than two dozen media requests, choosing to appear on PBS, MSNBC and "CBS This Morning."
Despite the Angelos family's reserve, the club took a public stand before on a controversial issue, this one related to baseball. In 1999, the Orioles became the only Major League Baseball team to play on Cuban soil since Fidel Castro's regime took over in 1959. Peter Angelos said he wanted Americans and Cubans to better understand one another. But the game was opposed by many Cuban-Americans and a group of congressmen.
Four years earlier, the national press lauded Peter Angelos for his pro-labor decision not to employ replacement players during the players' union strike.
The elder Angelos, who made his fortune representing workers in asbestos cases, has donated millions of dollars to local, state and national nonprofits. John and his younger brother, Louis, "have grown up in that environment," said Alan Rifkin, the principal outside counsel to the Orioles and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. Having a social conscience "is in their DNA," Rifkin said.
But there is an inherent risk in team officials adopting public postures that could be construed as political.
Angelos said he was making "a community statement" in his tweets rather than a political one but acknowledges that others may characterize it differently.
"Any sports exec risks alienating a sizable percentage of his or her franchise's audience by delving into political topics, so yes, it's rare to see it happen," said Bob Dorfman, executive creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. "But this was an issue that affected his franchise directly, and agree with him or not, he delivered a compelling and passionate argument on the causes of the unrest."
The climate seems to be becoming more hospitable for sports figures' political speech, said University of Texas sociologist Ben Carrington, author of the 2010 book "Race, Sport and Politics."
"I think there has been a shifting the past couple of years. The line between sports and politics has become blurred," Carrington said.
In 2012, LeBron James and other Miami Heat basketball players donned hoodies to call attention to the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin by a crime-watch volunteer. Last year, the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose wore a T-shirt reading "I Can't Breathe," referring to Eric Garner, a New York man who died after being put in a chokehold by police.
"There has been a sea change," Carrington said. "Look at the domestic violence around the NFL. Much of their rhetoric now is about community engagement."
Carrington said it's easier for sports executives to speak out if they perceive that their views align with those of their players. Like John Angelos, Orioles star Adam Jones publicly encouraged people last month to try to understand the causes of the unrest.
Records show Angelos has made campaign contributions to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, among other causes, but he says he is not involved "within the hierarchy of either party."
"Political speech, like all speech, comes under the banner or masthead of free speech," Angelos said. "If there's a taboo on that — if people believe that only those who are part of the political elite should be making political speech — then I think there is a risk that we will not have a participatory democracy."
John Angelos' tweets patched together
…speaking only for myself i agree with your point that the principle of peaceful, non-violent protest and the observance of the rule of law is of utmost importance in any society. MLK, Gandhi, Mandela, and all great opposition leaders throughout history have always preached this precept. Further, it is critical that in any democracy investigation must be completed and due process must be honored before any government or police members are judged responsible. That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night's property damage nor upon the acts group [sic] but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the US to 3rd world dictatorships like China and others plunged tens of millions of good hard working Americans into economic devastation and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American's civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state. The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the bill of rights by government pay the true price, an ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kids' game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards. We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the US and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don't have jobs and are losing economic civil and legal rights and this is makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans.