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Ravens' anthem singer resigns after fan reaction to player protests

Unlike many other stadiums, where a different person or group performs the national anthem before each game, M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, has the same singer every game.

Joey Odoms won a competition in 2014 to become the Ravens’ in-house performer after the previous singer moved to Alabama. But this week, Odoms resigned his position after seeing some of the reaction fans have given the Baltimore players who kneeled during the anthem on Sunday, when the Ravens played the Jaguars in London.

Baltimore Ravens players kneel during the playing of the national anthem last Sunday. (AP)

The entire Ravens team linked arms, including head coach John Harbaugh, and a dozen players kneeled, including Terrell Suggs and retired Baltimore legend Ray Lewis. It was the first time any Baltimore players have kneeled or sat since Colin Kaepernick began protesting during the anthem last year.

While there are many fans who support the players’ decision to kneel even if they don’t agree with it, understanding that it is intended to bring attention to the ongoing problems of racial injustice and inequality and that the First Amendment protects their right to do so, there are many others who do not.

Lewis has harshly criticized Kaepernick for his protest, and tried to explain that he wasn’t kneeling on one knee, he was on two knees praying; despite that, 35,000 people and counting have signed an online petition to remove the statue of Lewis outside of M&T Bank Stadium. (This is the same Ray Lewis who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice related to a double-murder case in Atlanta in 1999, but we digress.)

Then there are those like this “fan”, who burned and spit on Torrey Smith’s Baltimore jersey and sent the video to Smith, who no longer plays for the Ravens. (The fan was wearing a No. 27 Baltimore jersey in the video, the same number Ray Rice wore, the same Ray Rice who was caught on camera knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator in 2014.)

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And it’s all a bit too much for Odoms, a combat veteran who was a member of the Maryland Army National Guard until last year. Odoms is African-American.

“Someone once told me to always ‘go where you’re welcomed.’ This is not an emotional reaction to recent events, rather an ethical decision that part of me regrets but my core knows is the right choice,” he wrote in an Instagram post, via the Baltimore Sun. He further wrote that the “tone/actions of a large number of NFL fans in the midst of our country’s cultural crisis, have convinced me that I do not belong” at M&T Bank Stadium.

When it was apparently unclear which side he was on, Odoms posted again, coming down on the side of the players.

“Fans who attack players for protesting, (a right in which I fought to defend) but are simply not interested in understanding why, is the reason I am resigning,” he said.

Ravens team spokesman Kevin Byrne said in a statement, “We greatly appreciate the work Joey did for us and we thank him.”

Byrne told the Sun the team has a short list of preferred performers to sing the anthem this week.

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