Black Birds In Patriots Territory
For Greg Sauer, a Maryland transplant who has lived in New England for the last 12 years, being a Baltimore Ravens fan in Patriots country is difficult enough. But when his favorite team became the focus of public outrage following the release of a video showing Ravens running back Ray Rice allegedly assaulting his then-fiancée, things got even worse.
“Even before all of this happened, sports fans, you know, they are so passionate about their teams. Now you throw in this layer, and it has made it a little tough,” said Sauer, one of the founders of “Ravens Nation North,” a circle of sports enthusiasts that formed in 2012 through Meetup.com as a way to bring together people in Massachusetts who are fans of the Baltimore team.
Through all of the backlash since the footage was released by TMZ, Sauer, a Somerville resident, and members of Ravens Nation North have stood behind the team as a whole, finding camaraderie in the close-knit group that congregates regularly to watch games at their designated bar on Lansdowne Street.
But they have also taken a hard stance against Rice’s actions in the wake of the NFL controversy, turning their meetups into an opportunity to spread awareness about putting an end to domestic violence by raising money on behalf of local Boston charities.
After recognizing that he and fellow fans could do something, Sauer set up an online and in-person fundraiser, with all the money collected by the hundreds of Ravens supporters within the group going toward REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, a non-profit organization in Waltham. He also challenged his friends wearing black and purple to toss donations toward national groups.
“Being a sports fan with integrity is important right now, and as a group and a chapter of a fan base outside of Baltimore, it’s something we are really focusing on,” Sauer said.
Since its inception two years ago, the group has steadily grown, attracting Ravens supporters from all around the Boston area who pack shoulder-to-shoulder during each game to cheer on their team, even in the midst of extreme scrutiny.
Sauer admits it’s no simple feat walking through Boston with clusters of friends wearing Ravens jerseys, but the group has learned to ignore the heckling, and is keeping their minds set on turning a negative situation into something that can benefit the community they share with New England supporters.
“We want to promote a positive atmosphere, and we do that through our commitments. One of those commitments is helping our community, and that will be a part of [our group] forever,” said Sauer.
After the Rice video surfaced, leading to extreme criticism about how both the NFL and the Ravens handled initial reports of the assault, Sauer was hesitant to speak up about what happened, fearing that the wrong words would touch a nerve in New England.
“I had people firing back at me already on that, and asking me how we could root for this [team],” he said.
But after a few days and giving it some deep thought, Sauer posted a lengthy letter to the Ravens Nation North Facebook page, five hours before kickoff against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the letter, he expressed his thoughts as a fan of the game, and as a Maryland native living in New England. The letter read, in part:
I’m not proud right now. [I’m] embarrassed. I feel betrayed by the Ravens, by the NFL, and by Ray Rice. And most of all, I am mad at myself for playing along just like many others did by not understanding the magnitude of a serious and pervasive issue like domestic violence…forget looking at the Ravens top brass for answers, forget waiting for the NFL to do something. As angered and betrayed as some of us may be, now is the time to make a difference for others and take back that thing we all love.
Come Sunday, when Ravens Nation North members meet again, he will continue to push that message.
“I think all of this has exposed a sad truth and state of affairs in a business that is professional football, and it’s hard to get over that. It certainly tested my allegiance for a little bit, and others too,” he said. “But I think what people are coming around to is that they love football, and they love their town, and I don’t think they want to stand by and let this tear it down, they want to take it back, and the way to do that is to be a fan with integrity.”