COURTESY OF BALTIMORE RAVENS MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
A lot of people were very impressed with the Ravens' statement on social justice. How did that come about for you? Talk about your input in what was said from the team. (Jamison Hensley) "First off, we have a great locker room – a great group of guys who are all passionate about trying to make change, like real change, and create action items that we can do right now. Just seeing what's going on in the world, a bunch of players came together and went and talked to Coach [John] Harbaugh and asked him if we could just … We still wanted to practice – get our practice done – and then just spend some time, and really just express our thoughts and see what comes of it. We had a long meeting. I don't know how long it was, but it felt like it was a very long meeting. But it was very productive. You had a lot of guys speaking. Then afterwards, we said we wanted to release a statement and we wanted to make it impactful. It was probably 30 guys – if not more – in there and a lot of guys talking. Everybody kind of talking through what can we do, what are our options? It was a lot of players, a lot of coaches. It was just cool to see so many people speaking up and wanting to be heard. We wanted to stand out. We wanted to say something that was going to actually be impactful. This is something that really meant a lot to us as a group, and me personally. Being one of the older guys in the locker room and just having the experiences I have, I definitely tried to take a big role in this and really just making sure that everybody had a chance to be heard, and that we actually talk through and make a statement – not just from the players, but as a unit, as a group, as the Baltimore Ravens. So, it was great."
What do you think the media can do to help you fight for social justice? (Ximena Lugo-Latorre) "Continue giving us a platform. I know with social media, you have so many people speaking and talking about topics at all times, and then the media does a good job of echoing and reposting and communicating our statements. For us, it's an ongoing battle. This is a civil rights [and] social justice battle that's been going on for forever – from the beginning of our country. This is a battle that … You see it all the time, but … Simple equality. I love all people; I love the police officers; I love America; I love the whole set up. But right now, in our country, there is some natural biases and some stigma on the Black community. You're looking at a guy who is very successful and I've come from very humble beginnings. I know my story has been out there a lot lately: I've lived in a homeless shelter. I've been evicted from houses. I grew up very, very tough. But I was lucky to have a two-parent household and lucky enough to have a great family that taught me how to handle anything. But you look around and I have so many friends and people just going through struggle right now. I think a lot of this stems from poverty. I would say that, in the Black community, there's a lot of healing that needs to take place. There's a lot of trauma passed down from generations – from just slavery, from all the oppression we've felt over the years. It's passed down – a lot of trauma. So, this is something where we just want to draw a line in the sand and start trying to make some change. This happened all through history. You see so many … And I know a lot of people when it comes to sports … But in sports, you see a lot of athletes in our history become political. I think it's important for us to become political. We have to start understanding how things operate in our country and utilize our resources to try to make a difference. This new George Floyd Justice and Policing Act – it's something that, when you start learning about it … This has some real legs; this can really make some big changes. That was something that we really wanted to push. We hope the media can also help us push that, because this is something I feel like, if passed, could make some big differences. We've still got a long way to go. This is just one place. But overall, I just feel like this is a unique time, where I think social media plays a big role in this, and just being able to be heard. This is a unique time whereas a lot of people are paying attention to what we've got going on right now in the Black community. I feel like some real change can happen, and we have to continue to push actionable items and just never let the conversation go quiet."
As you just said, you guys called for some very specific actions. If you don't see the progress that you want to see, have you guys talked about other stuff you might do down the line? (Childs Walker) "We're taking it one day at a time. There are a lot of conversations about a lot of things, but for the most part, you kind of have to let things go in the moment they are; you have to let things develop in the moment that we're in. We said that we'll take it one day at a time and try to figure out a way to make real change. And this is something that we felt strongly about. Going forward, I'm sure a lot of players … We've had conversations amongst guys about things we can do. Obviously, this is something we thought was a good start for us – just release a statement and demand and ask for things that are important to us. As far as what our strengths are … Me personally, this is how I feel; I can't speak for everybody on this one: Our voice is stronger when we're on the field. Our voice is stronger if we can play well enough to be in that last game in February. I feel like that's when our voice is strongest. But everybody has their own opinions, and we'll talk through it and try to make decisions that are best for all of us."
How has your decision to sign with the Ravens been reinforced with the social justice statement the team released? (Kyle Barber) "It's been great. This organization is special, just having the ability to be able to make a statement from the players and coaches. And there were a lot of players speaking up. That encouragement – that freedom – to really be able to express ourselves and have support from the organization was awesome. This whole organization has been first class [and] top notch. I remember talking to Tony Jefferson when I was trying to figure out how if this trade was to go through, and he was saying … He was excited. He was like, 'I'm very excited you get to experience being a Raven.' And now I know what he means, because this is definitely a first-class organization that just encourages you to be yourself and be the best version of yourself. So, here we are."
You're one of the older guys in the room, and I know you've been in the league for over a decade. How have you seen players' voices and their engagement in social issues like this change from the time you entered the league to now? (Aaron Kasinitz)"Oh, it's changed dramatically for the football world. Social media plays a big role in this. I think a lot of guys had conversations … We're in the locker room, and I remember, so many times, communicating with my teammates, but you didn't really post anything; you didn't really express your opinion publicly. And so, those were conversations we have in the locker room, which is pretty much a sanctuary. The locker room is probably … When I retire, it's going to be the place I miss the most. I think most players do, just because that's where you really get to connect and bond with guys, and really get to figure out who people are. I think football is a good representation of what America could be, because you have people coming from different backgrounds, [different] socioeconomic backgrounds, different races and beliefs, and you come together; and it's like, you put all your differences aside just for one common goal. In the locker room, we've had so many incredible conversations about politics, about religion, about life, about philosophy – everything. And just seeing the difference as social media has taken a role, it's giving players a voice to really be heard. When you get in front of the media … Sometimes you only get so many opportunities to really speak, but now with social media, you can always be heard at any time. And most times it's a good thing; sometimes it can be a bad thing. For the most part, I feel like social media really has given the players a chance to really communicate directly to their fanbase and to be heard on issues that really impact them."
Coming into a new system and not having offseason workouts, have you had enough time to get acclimated to the players and kind of a new defense here? (Todd Karpovich) "Yes. I've seen it all before. There's only so much you can do as a defensive lineman. And the hard part is understanding the terminology, understanding just what his [defensive coordinator Don Martindale's] style is as far as the blitzing and how he wants certain blocks played. But for the most part, camp has been great. Working with the offensive line and really trying to challenge them and talking through with the other guys on the D-line [and] the linebackers and understanding how we play off each other. It's been great. I think experience plays a big role in that, and I feel very comfortable. I think this first game – when we have the opportunity to play our first game – I should be right where I want to be."
Three years ago, when NFL players tried to take a stand on what was happening in society, the President of the United States had some very nasty words and encouraged that you all leave the country. To this day, there are still people who say, 'Hey, we just want football. Just play the game.' Or, 'We won't watch the game anymore if there's any of this investment in society.' When you were all meeting, was there ever at all any discussion of possible repercussions? Did anybody express any fear of what this could mean for you as NFL players, for the NFL? Obviously, you made a decision to move forward – why? Why do you face that fear, if there is that fear, to still take this stance? (Aditi Kinkhabwala) "The conversation came up for a little bit. It didn't last too long, because I think so many guys are passionate about really making a difference. I feel like this platform … God gave us this platform. I truly believe that God gave me the ability to play football to inspire people and to really use these gifts to make the world a better place. I feel like it's my duty to really stand for what I believe in. So, when I see so much pain and oppression in the world, especially in the Black community, I feel like if it's not us, if it's not me, then who is it? Who can we depend on? I've always wanted to be more outspoken since my rookie year. A lot of times it was like, 'OK, just learn.' I just wanted to learn as much as possible, but then you realize that the time is now. I can continue to learn and continue to figure out my viewpoint and what I want to say as I go along, but I can't wait for tomorrow. It's too important. It has to be now."
How important is it to be with an organization like the Ravens and have an owner like Steve Bisciotti? The head guy actually supports the work that you guys are doing along social justice. (Kevin Richardson) "It's very important. I believe that the whole NFL is starting to come around, but the Ravens always try to set the tone. We try to really make a real difference and really try to set the standard for what we can do. Everybody releases a statement, and as an athlete, I think it's a cool thing right now to be political. But I don't want to just do something because it's cool. I want to do something because it's impactful. To have that empowerment through the organization, through the ownership and for them to give us not only the ability to do it, but the encouragement to do it, that's a good feeling. This is an incredible organization. I'm very proud to be a Raven."
I've got a football question. As far as LB Patrick Queen, your middle linebacker, this is a rookie who hasn't had the opportunity to have any preseason games. What have you seen in him in training camp and his ability to kind of live up to a pretty big legacy position for the Ravens? (Jamison Hensley) "He's going to be a special player. Obviously, he's a rookie and he's going to have some growing pains, but he gets it. He comes to work focused every day. [He] brings a lot of energy. He's very smart, and I think that he's going to have an incredible season. Obviously, I think he's [going to] have a very incredible career. I think that most people who watch him, they can tell he's going to have a great career. But we'll see how fast he starts. I think he's going to have a big season this year. I think we're going to be able to depend on him and he's going to come up big for us."
Football question as well. What does it take for a five-technique to stay consistent snap to snap? (Kyle Barber) (laughing) "Consistency is really just mental toughness in the technique and details. I try to [tell] our rookies all the time, 'That's really kind of the game. It's the same game you've been playing your whole life, it hasn't changed. The guys on the other side are a little better [and] the guys around you are a little better when you get to the NFL level.' To be consistent, it really is a mindset and mental toughness to continuously work your technique and just to be physical. For me, playing with a low pad level … When I play with a low pad level, there's nobody that can block me in the league. Sometimes I go a little high and I still do OK – that's probably why I play high a little bit of [the time]. I think consistency comes with continuous repetition, continuous focus and a mental toughness to do it the way it's supposed to be done."