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Ravens' Lamar Jackson runs against the Titans in the first quarter. The Ravens were defeated by the Titans in the Divisional Playoff at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ravens' Lamar Jackson runs against the Titans in the first quarter. The Ravens were defeated by the Titans in the Divisional Playoff at M&T Bank Stadium. (Kenneth K. Lam)

In the closing minutes of the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans Divisional Playoff game, word began to spread on social media about a spate of shootings that left 12 injured and five dead in the city.

While the city and the country were transfixed on the AFC division’s No. 1 seed and the NFL’s best team of the regular season, violence was undeterred by the “purple madness” at M&T Bank stadium that could be heard blocks away.

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Unfortunately, violence is not new in Baltimore, but this year felt different.

The Ravens finessed their way into the top of the football world. And as a result, fans from across the country and even around the world, started attaching themselves to our beleaguered hometown. Those who had abandoned the city or lost touch re-established their connection to Charm City all based on a new narrative: winning.

As one sports commentator put it, Baltimore has thrived on the underdog story. We have defined it and embraced it as our collective and personal credo.

All that changed with the success of the Ravens. They went into the weekend with a 14-2 winning record and dominated the regular season through the rise of quarterback Lamar Jackson and a game changing offense and defense. The Ravens rewrote the typical and played out Baltimore narrative and upgraded the way people viewed the city in the sports world and beyond. And we were all here for it.

Mr. Jackson helped fuel this new sense of pride when he visited a West Baltimore carryout for a meal, recommended by former Ravens player Torrey Smith, the day of the game. Mr. Jackson, it turns out, was in search of banana pudding, though the restaurant was out. Still, the excitement of him and other Ravens players making the visit became the talk of Baltimore social media. The pictures and videos of Mr. Jackson greeting customers, comfortable in his own skin and with residents in his new home, said it all. The fandom was full-blown. Mr. Jackson wasn’t just an NFL player, but Baltimore’s quarterback.

Sadly, the tide of excitement changed to mockery and all out disrespect after Saturday’s loss, as some began to blame the carryout owner for Mr. Jackson and others playing their most underwhelming game all season. The feedback was swift, distasteful and heartbreaking.

This scenario says so much about Baltimore. We needed the Ravens to win because we needed a win against the disparaging attitudes we often have about ourselves as much as the ever present violence that plagues our city and conscience. We are fighting for our humanity. Now more than ever, we needed something to remind us of our best selves. Some might say that this psychological attachment to a football team is unhealthy, unjustified and unrealistic. I beg to differ. Sports inspires us and brings people together in ways that political, social and institutional leadership cannot. The game teaches life lessons about the value of preparation and skill, the necessity of defeat and the critical importance of determination to never give up. A winning team gives us all something to feel good about.

When this attachment is deemed only as fanatical, I believe the criticism diminishes the power that sports can have on helping people to believe that the human spirit can be victorious. With Baltimore’s murder rate at its highest and morale at its lowest, we need examples of how to beat the odds to live, love and win. Nothing gets our blood rushing and our wheels turning like the thought of overcoming the odds.

So this place that we are in, feels new and it is different. We can’t let go of the winning spirit the Raven’s brought to the city, even if the team is no longer in the playoffs. In order to gain from the new, we must put to rest the demons of the old to make it through the transition successfully. Our minds must change. Our attitudes must improve. We must see ourselves as champions, not out of vanity, but based on the possibility that in spite of a year of record-breaking violence and murders, we can still have a season of record-breaking peace with an MVP level of humanity.

Faraji Muhammad (farajiimuhammad@gmail.com) is the host of For The Culture on WEAA 88.9 FM, a member of the Ravens Flock and a believer in Baltimore.

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