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As deadline nears for Ravens OLB Matthew Judon, he’s focused on matters ‘bigger than football’

"I feel like everybody should read up on history and educate themselves. It's not cool that Roger Goodell said it. He should've been saying it," said Judon.

Matthew Judon made one thing clear Monday: He’s more worried about America’s social contract than he is the Ravens’ contract offers.

Over a wide-ranging conference call with local reporters, his first interview since signing a $16.8 million franchise tag tender last month, the Pro Bowl outside linebacker touched on everything from contract extension negotiations to the potential for fan-free games (“I think it’d be weird”) to his quarantine video game diet (a lot of “Call of Duty: Warzone”).

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But Judon spoke most passionately about the country’s civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody. He was especially reluctant to praise NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for endorsing the “Black Lives Matter” message that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on Friday echoed.

“It’s something that people shouldn’t have to say,” he said. “Black lives should always matter. I don’t think it’s something that, when one person says it, it’s like, ‘Oh, now it makes sense.’ It’s something that’s been made sense. My life matters since Aug. 15, 1992 [Judon’s birthday], and I feel like everybody else, as a black person, they knew their life matters when they was put on this earth. ...

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“I think we should've been questioning why Roger Goodell didn't say, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ when he was born or when he became commissioner or when he was re-elected commissioner. Racism is not a cool thing. It's not a trend. … I feel like everybody should read up on history and educate themselves. It's not cool that Roger Goodell said it. He should've been saying it.”

Judon was among the Ravens to kneel before the team’s 2017 game in London against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a response to President Donald Trump’s comments calling on team owners to part with athletes protesting during the national anthem.

On Monday, Judon cited the message of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality and racial inequality in 2016 by sitting and then, upon the advice of former NFL player and U.S. military veteran Nate Boyer, kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Judon lamented the “pushback” against Kaepernick, who has been a free agent since 2017 and who filed a grievance against the NFL accusing league owners of colluding to keep him out of the league. Kaepernick reportedly reached a confidential settlement with the NFL last year and withdrew the grievance.

“He didn’t publicize [his protest], but when he was asked about it, he explained himself in a manner which people should’ve understood, and I feel like that’s the fight since black people been in America,” Judon said. “Let’s be treated equally. You treat your kids equally. Just treat humans equally, and I feel like then we can talk about different stuff. But until we are all treated the same and given the same respect and decency as humans, I think stuff needs to be changed.”

In recent years, Judon has met with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland to discuss criminal-justice reform and worn a T-shirt to a news conference decrying the country’s disproportionate incarceration of people of color. On Monday, he said the Ravens have yet to decide how they would use the team’s platform to address racism.

But he commended Bisciotti and his teammates, black and white, for speaking out in the team-produced “Black Lives Matter” video last week. He stressed the urgency of the dialogue and called it “bigger than football.”

“What the video is saying is, people of a different color don't want to be above the law,” Judon said. “We just want the law to work for us. And that's really what it was saying, and I commend every man that got on that video and spoke from their heart. And we all need to listen and educate ourselves more on the topics.”

Judon appeared more satisfied with how far he’s come in Baltimore. Since arriving as a fifth-round pick in 2016, Judon has 28½ sacks, including a career-high 9½ last season, over four years and 62 games. The Ravens designated Judon with the franchise tag in March, keeping him off the free-agent market, and he became the team’s highest-paid player after agreeing to sign over two weeks ago.

But with Judon’s contract extended only through 2020, his future in Baltimore is seemingly as uncertain as his open-market value in 2021. If social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic continues through the season, several of the league’s revenue streams will be decimated. The salary cap is unlikely to rise much, if at all, and could ultimately decrease, drastically altering teams’ spending plans.

The Ravens have until July 15 to sign Judon to a long-term extension. If they don’t, he’ll be the team’s first player since outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, in 2008, to play under the franchise tag. Judon said he is “happy to be a Raven” and eager to stay in Baltimore “for as long as I play.” But he claimed ignorance on the state of his contract negotiations. He said he’s happy to leave the negotiations to his agents and the Ravens’ front office.

“I understand that it’s a business and that they’ve kind of got a bad good problem to have,” he said. “We have a lot of young talent, and unfortunately, we all can’t stay on a rookie deal our whole careers. So they have stuff they have to address, and obviously, I have needs as well.”

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