As a young man, Kevin Plank may have been a middling football player with a big future in sportswear, but these days, he is showing the potential to be a top-ranked cheerleader. The message from the Under Armour CEO is as uplifting as the company's TV ads that always seem to feature a top athlete training hard to be the best: Baltimore can be a championship city as soon as it starts thinking of itself as a winner.
The Maryland native is onto something. Baltimore has an inferiority complex, and it's a persistent condition. Whether it can be traced to its proximity to bigger, more prosperous cities in the Mid-Atlantic or just something in the psychological makeup of its residents (the accent inevitably puzzles out-of-towners), we can't say.
But one thing is clear, it's holding Baltimore back. Don't take our word for it. Talk to Mr. Plank, who thinks Baltimore's view of itself as an underdog is great, but its view of itself as a dog is not so hot. And he's one armchair critic who deserves an audience — he's created the fastest growing sports apparel and footwear company in the world. And he's located it in Baltimore. Baltimore! And more than that, he's invested big bucks to turn the company's Tide Point campus into a showplace and expects it to eventually triple in size.
Let us add our own observation here: Stop blaming "The Wire" and "Homicide: Life on the Street" for creating an image of Baltimore as murderous and thuggish. Cities that feel good about themselves don't feel defined by fiction. Did London's economy collapse because Charles Dickens set his bleakest novels there? Did Venice lose its appeal after William Shakespeare wrote about a money lender who demanded a pound of flesh?
Here's what people in Boston and New York City do after Hollywood sets yet another gangster shoot 'em up on their streets — they don't care. Or those who do set up pricey "location" bus tours so visitors can see the exact site where a character from "The Departed" died. Did Beantown tourism dry up after "The Town" came out depicting Charlestown as filled with bank robbers? As a townie might say, don't make me bahf.
Baltimore has plenty to feel good about, and Mr. Plank has the vision to recognize it. "I want Baltimore to be the coolest city in the world," he recently told The Sun's Jeff Barker. "Why can't we make it great?"
Baltimore needs that optimism like The Wire's "Bubbles" needed a speedball (sorry, force of habit). As mayor, the late William Donald Schaefer was an indefatigable booster of all things Baltimore — sometimes to the point of absurdity. His successors have not been cut from that cloth. That's a shame because the community could use more of it — even in the age of irony when it's far more hip to see the darkness and decay than to be caught on the sunny side of the street.
It's also unfortunate that a Baltimore-as-hell message has gotten a lot of mileage for certain Maryland politicians who do the city and themselves a disservice every time they play that broken record. If the city could just have a dollar every time a grandstander like Del. Pat McDonough shed a crocodile tear for a murdered drug dealer, the streets would be paved with gold. Funny how doomsayers have a lot less to say about world-class assets like Johns Hopkins Hospital and Under Armour or the economic success story of Inner Harbor East or the overachieving public school students at City College, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and the Baltimore School for the Arts.
Yes, there are problems in Charm City. Nobody is denying that. But if that's all you see then you are missing a lot. Kevin Plank has a terrific perspective on this, and he's putting his money where his mouth is — not only at Under Armour but through investments in local fields and facilities for Baltimore's youth and most recently, the redevelopment of the Recreation Pier in Fells Point into a boutique hotel.
Mr. Plank gets kudos for starting the cheer, but others are going to have to join in or his voice won't be heard above all the chronic pessimism.