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Ravens fans lament Wednesday afternoon Steelers game, criticize NFL, team for handling of coronavirus

Terrell Fields is a longtime Baltimore football fan who used to go to Colts games with his father and has fond memories of how Memorial Stadium “used to jump off the chain” on Sundays after touchdowns and wins.

But working at Howell Funeral Home in Gwynn Oak, the 60-year-old Ravens fan also has witnessed the coronavirus pandemic up close. He’s seen the way COVID-19 victims’ bodies are wrapped to ensure they don’t spread the disease after their deaths.

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Given the outbreak that has affected over 20 Ravens players and postponed their game against the Steelers game twice, Fields questioned why the game at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field should take place at all — and on a Wednesday afternoon, no less.

“That thing ain’t no joke,” he said. “I don’t think they should [play]. They’ve called it off two times. Why play now?”

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More Ravens fans likely will be able to see the unusual, 3:40 p.m. kickoff — initially scheduled for Thanksgiving night at prime time — on television than might otherwise, as many are still working remotely due to the pandemic.

But fans criticized the NFL’s decision to schedule the game at a time when those who can’t work from home won’t be able to watch, and Fields was far from alone in arguing that players’ health and safety should take precedence over league profits.

Brandon Harris, a Maryland Transit Administration bus driver, cited the outbreaks on the Ravens and other teams as evidence the NFL should never have scheduled the 2020 season in the first place.

“I don’t understand why we’re even still playing,” he said.

Harris, a 43-year-old father of four who grew up in Baltimore and lives in Taneytown, chalked it up to “billionaires trying to get richer.”

“They’re not going to realize they need to cancel the season until a football player dies,” Harris said. “They’re playing Russian roulette with players’ lives.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell insisted during a conference call before the game Wednesday that the league prioritizes “health and medical decisions” over “competitive considerations and business interests.”

”In the case of Ravens, we postponed the game against the Steelers to ensure that we had confidence that the virus was contained,” Goodell said. “Our medical experts believe that they have now sufficiently traced and identified at-risk personnel and that we can now safely proceed with the game today.”

Emily Balins and several of her Ravens fan coworkers at Model Home Interiors in Elkridge came to work a few hours early so they could get home in time to catch the Wednesday afternoon game, she said.

“Obviously we have never had to do this before for a Ravens game,” she said.

Balins, 27, said she planned to watch the game at home in Pikesville, despite being disappointed with the way the Ravens’ outbreak was handled. The entire team should have undergone a mandatory two-week quarantine period to keep the players safe, she said.

“I think the ball was totally dropped because other teams did have outbreaks, but not to the degree that we do right now,” she said. “It’s just unmanageable at this point.”

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Roland “Rusty” Brown will tune in from his home in East Baltimore, even though he expects a loss. The Ravens are heavy underdogs to the undefeated Steelers, especially with quarterback Lamar Jackson and several other key players out.

“Half their team’s not playing,” Brown said. “Pittsburgh’s undefeated; they’ve got a good team right now. It’s not looking good for the Ravens. They’ve already got COVID, they haven’t been playing particularly well this year, and it’s on a Wednesday in the middle of the afternoon.

“But this is 2020, and that’s how things have been going. What can we do? It’s a business, and a business has to go on. That’s what it all boils down to.”

Brown, 52, doesn’t plan to crack a beer the way he normally might for a weekend football game.

“I usually unwind on the weekends,” he said. “It’s not the weekend, so things are out of the norm. I’ll just watch the game. I’ll eat and watch the game, and that’ll be it.”

Some bosses are leaning into the weekday afternoon match-up. Sparks Marketing Communications posted on Instagram that it would close at 3:40 p.m. due to “unforeseen circumstances,” with the words in purple.

At Pat Strietz’s office in Westminster, managers are allowing employees to watch the game on the big screen that normally displays sales statistics, he said.

Strietz, a 34-year-old mortgage adviser and Ravens fan who lives in Reisterstown, said his office remains at about half its usual capacity. He, too, was concerned about the safety of the Ravens players, although he said he believes the team has handled the outbreak “to the best of their ability.”

The league required the Denver Broncos to play the New Orleans Saints with a practice-squad wide receiver at quarterback due to an outbreak, so Strietz expected the Ravens-Steelers game to be played, too, despite the Ravens’ missing players.

Watching a 3:40 p.m. Wednesday kickoff will be odd, he said, but it’s just another result of a pandemic that has upended nearly every aspect of life this year.

“I’ve come to acclimate myself to expect the unexpected in this crazy year,” he said. “Any given Sunday — or in this case, any given Wednesday — anybody who’s watched Ravens-Steelers in the last 20 years has learned you never know what to expect with these two teams.”

Dennis Johnson, a 20-year-old former Amazon employee, waited at Mondawmin Metro Station for a bus to a job interview with UPS on Wednesday morning. He wasn’t sure whether he would be home in time to watch the game, a fate shared by many hourly workers who can’t work remotely.

“For diehard fans, it sucks,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Daniel Oyefusi, Sanya Kamidi and John-John Williams contributed to this article.

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