Baltimore Ravens

'I'm trying to become what I hated when I was playing': Former Ravens transition to life in the media

For three former Ravens players, joining the WBAL radio team was like being former students who didn’t like tests or homework becoming teachers.

“I'm trying to become what I hated when I was playing. I hated reporters,” Jarret Johnson said.


Johnson played nine of his 12 NFL seasons on the Ravens defense — a gritty, self-described “intense” linebacker whose most famous hit was leveling Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Post-retirement, he was one of four ex-Ravens — along with Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta and Justin Forsett — called upon to provide color commentary for Gerry Sandusky’s play-by-play on the team’s revamped radio coverage in 2017. Johnson, Pitta and Forsett have stayed on for another year.

With no media experience, Forsett thought he would have to wear a lot more suits. Pitta wasn’t sure what to expect.


But Johnson did, a little. He had already dipped his toes a bit in the airwaves, working on his own Monday shows on 98 Rock. But while he was still in pads for his day job, he maintained a rigid “us” versus “them” outlook toward media.

He wasn’t the only one who thought this way.

“As a football player, you're almost taught that the media is a little bit of a bad guy,” said Pitta, a former tight end. “You can't necessarily say what you want to say to the media. They're constantly trying to get you to say things that you may not want to say.”

Flipping sides hasn’t come naturally to Pitta, he said. He spent 2010 to 2016 in the NFL with the Ravens, trotting out to give answers to reporters. If he was going to do any kind of broadcast work, he’d assumed it would be as an analyst — becoming a former player suited up at a crescent-shaped table with a mix of talking heads.

“But to do play-by-play, color commentary was something that I had not really thought of at all,” he said.

Then, after a third hip injury during organized team activities in 2017, playing football came to an abrupt end. When the Ravens released Pitta, they asked whether he would go on the radio for them.

“It was just a new adventure, a new challenge that I wanted to try,” the 33-year-old Pitta said.

Obviously, Pitta knew football, but just having that on-field experience wasn’t enough. The amount of analytics to study on every player at every position on every team in the NFL so he could spout anything off the top of his head during a broadcast was overwhelming. But at the same time, all three gained a level of respect for the media they had never had as players.


“They have families,” Forsett said. “You laugh with them. They’re people.”

When he was an NFL running back, Forsett felt he really needed to study only the defense. He just needed to wake up, read the schedule the team gave him, go where he needed to go and run where he needed to run.

That’s all changed now.

“Man, I'm a lot more busy know than I ever was playing, now being a full-time entrepreneur and doing radio,” said Forsett, a 32-year-old father of three young children. “Most of my time playing, I had an itinerary. I had my schedule built out. But now I have to fill my own itinerary and schedule for the day, and insert, ‘OK, I gotta study and research and watch more football.’ I never was a guy that would just sit down on Sundays and say, ‘Oh, let me just sit down and watch this game.’ ”

Adjusting to the new world behind the mic, the three former players have tried to figure out what they want to be without losing themselves.

Johnson, 37, has tried to keep a sense of who he is — a former football player. Despite the respect he’s gained for most of the media, he knows he really isn’t a journalist. He is, though, someone who could step into a player’s shoes and speak from that perspective.


He also doesn’t have the stomach for those who like to dish out “hot takes.”

“I don't have any formal training. I try to keep everything as if it's a couple guys hanging out a bar, or hanging out in the locker room,” Johnson said. “The minute I try to be something I'm not, or I start thinking about the amount of people that are listening or something like that, I tend to get off base. I get a little haywire.”

Forsett, who played three of his nine NFL seasons with the Ravens, looks to quarterback-turned-analyst Tony Romo for inspiration.

“I want to be energetic, I want to bring some excitement. I want to be funny, witty, but also informative,” he said. “I want to bring some real-life insight to the game, kind of what the players are thinking.”

It’s easy to assume a former player would have no trouble getting an inside scoop from his old organization, especially when the same coach is at the helm. Johnson, however, has found he is really no better off than any other reporter, no matter how many tackles he made for the Ravens from 2003 to 2011.

“When you're playing, you actually have the answer. You know what the game plan is, [but] you can't say all that stuff,” he said. “When you're on my side [now], you can be as honest as you want. You can say whatever you want. But you don't have all the answers because you're not in the meeting rooms anymore and you're not watching film anymore.”


Pitta still feels like he's a member of the team sometimes, like when he gets to stay in the same hotel that the Ravens book for away games. But once he took his jersey off and went behind the mic, he lost the unfettered trust he had with players when they were just guys who took a beating together on Sundays.

“You see a little bit of a change in how people look at you. I know I still have really good friends on the team and they're like, ‘Oh, we can't talk about this around you. You're a media member now,’ ” Pitta said. “They're joking, obviously, but there is a little bit of that stigma — being a former player now in the media side of it, that things change for sure.”