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Rough week for Baltimore sports fans

This week has been rough on Baltimore sports teams and their fans. First, two baseball players that were key to the Orioles' success this year took massive free agent contracts and jumped at the chance for more money and a change of venue. Then, a fan favorite, community spokesman, and essential member of the successful Ravens' defense, Haloti Ngata, was suspended for the rest of the regular season (four games) for violating the league's Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) policy.

A lot of fans are ready to jump off the cliff because Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz left Baltimore in their rear-view mirror and headed to Atlanta and Seattle with significant pay raises, money they undoubtedly wouldn't have scored had they stayed an Oriole. Personally I see fault on neither side. The players had an opportunity at their highest potential market value to be rewarded for their recent success and perfect timing (see Joe Flacco's contract year and Super Bowl MVP year) and they took it.

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From the Orioles' perspective, baseball is still a business. They made a smart business decision by not trying to match those offers against their budget and what portion they attribute to those two positions. The people in those positions, quality players and men, will surely be missed and many fans will have to trade in their Cruz jerseys or go to T-shirt night for next year's player du jour for a replacement to their Markakis version.

Ngata is a different story. A stalwart on the defense since he was drafted, Ngata has become not only a key element of the team, but a crowd favorite as well. His decision to violate the league policy not only cost him four week's pay and an unwanted vacation, it cost his teammates and coaches, his fans, and his reputation. But do we need to crucify the man? He made a bad decision for which he will have to live with for his whole life.

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People are quick to point the critical finger and scoff at Ngata, and the press is quick to jump on the story because as sports fans we demand it. We want to see our heroes succeed and we get something out of watching them fail as well. Do we connect with them better because it proves we're all flawed? Is it because we don't really want to see people succeed? Not sure what, but we do.

I don't know what the "real" story is and really I don't care. I have no control over the decision on his part or on the league's part when a violation occurs. The league has rules, the players know the rules, and as long as the rules are applied and the consequences handed out equally, then I can't find fault with the punishment.

Ngata's actions are just the latest in a long line of off-season and in-season legal issues that have plagued the Ravens' this year. There have been arrests for anywhere from felony possession of marijuana to misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct and Ray Rice's felony aggravated assault. Only a handful of other NFL teams have had multiple offenses this year and the Ravens are responsible for one out of every four NFL players arrested.

They say that sports reflect society or that society reflects sports. Not sure which but I would say they are a mirror image of each other no matter which way you look at it. According to Forbes magazine that has Baltimore ranked No. 7 out of the top 20 most dangerous cities in the U.S., the violent crime rate is 1,417 per 100,000 people, the city is plagued by drugs and poverty and ranks in the top 15 U.S. cities for all violent crimes except forcible rape. I heard in training seminar lately that there are 60,000 heroin addicts in the city, roughly 1 in every 10 residents.

My grandfather taught me my love of Baltimore driving through the tunnel to Orioles or Colts games that has stayed with me for my whole life. It saddens me to see where it is today. I'm a believer in how people learn valuable life lessons through sports and that we should take those lessons into everyday life. But sometimes, maybe society needs to help teach lessons to our sports heroes and fans. English historian Henry Thomas Buckle once wrote, "Society prepares the crime, the criminal commits it."

If we continue to tolerate the poor living conditions under which our citizens of Baltimore are living, the crime rate will continue to rise and the decay of the city will rival that of Detroit.

As long as it goes on outside of sports, you can bet it will continue inside the game.

Reach Robert "Bird" Brown at 410-857-8552 or robert.brown@carrollcountytimes.com.

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