Ravens anthem singer explains resignation, defends NFL protests

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Baltimore Ravens anthem singer and National Guard veteran Joey Odoms resigned this week following the protests and displays of unity staged by NFL players around the country.

Odoms, 28, does not feel the players were attempting to disrespect the military or country. Quite the opposite.

He fought for their right to protest — which includes a tour in Afghanistan — and if fans want to attack players for protesting, rather than understand why they’re taking the knee, he no longer feels welcome delivering “The Star-Spangled Banner” to them on Sundays, he said.

He announced his resignation via Instagram, but told CNN that he took issue with his own treatment by police — a mainstay of Colin Kaepernick’s rationale for pioneering the take-the-knee protests — and with the Ravens’ fans booing last year during President Barack Obama’s message on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

“Most fans accepted me as a veteran, former 911 operator, patriot and singer of the anthem, but far too many fans seemed to reject issues that affect not just me, a black veteran and an American, but all of us,” said Odoms, who left the military last year as a sergeant.

Odoms grew up in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood of Baltimore. He did not come from a military family, he told CNN. In fact, he considered himself anti-military until he actually joined the service.

“I’ve grown to love and appreciate my country even more because of that experience,” he said, explaining that as a soldier he always chooses to “stand and render a salute” during the anthem.

While serving in Afghanistan as a member of the Maryland Army National Guard in February 2014, Odoms met Ravens coach John Harbaugh and asked him how he could get the gig as the team’s anthem singer, according to a story on the team website. A few months later, he found himself in tryouts, where he beat out seven other singers for the position.

“His voice is pure. His presentation of the anthem is respectful, powerful and done with reverence,” Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne, one of the judges, said at the time.

On Sunday, he sang the National Anthem as he had for the previous three seasons, but this time, with several Baltimore players, including Ravens luminaries Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis, along the sideline on one knee. Players across the league knelt, locked arms or stayed in their locker rooms during the anthem in response to caustic criticism from President Donald Trump, who called for NFL owners to fire any “son of a bitch” who kneels during the anthem.

There was a range of reactions to the players’ protests. Like in many cities, Baltimore residents responded with a mix of support and criticism. Some fans vowed to sell their tickets and stop rooting for the team, The Baltimore Sun reported. More than 58,000 people signed a petition calling for the Ravens to take down the statue of Lewis in front of M&T Bank Stadium.

Odoms’ resignation letter, addressed “Dear Ravens Flock,” says that while some fans have supported him, “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 there.

“Someone once told me to always ‘go where you’re welcomed.’ This is not an emotional reaction, rather an ethical decision that part of me regrets but my core knows is the right choice.”

He later elaborated via Instagram: “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.”

The Ravens released a statement, saying, “We greatly appreciate the work Joey did for us, and we thank him.”

Here is Odoms’ entire statement to CNN, edited for punctuation:

“I believe that the athletes who were protesting are just as patriotic and feel as strongly about our country, the flag and what it means as much as anyone else. Black problems in our nation as Americans should be OUR problems.

Those who wish to reinforce oppression in our country hide behind good people — many who I’m sure mean no harm but simply don’t receive racial injustice as their problem.

Many are simply unwilling to understand. When large numbers of fans around the league do things like boo President Obama during a 9/11 message, I have to ask myself, What is their priority? The memory of those we lost, or expressing their dislike for our country’s leader for simply stating that he supports all Americans’ First Amendment rights?

Most fans accepted me as a veteran, former 911 operator, patriot and singer of the anthem but far too many fans seemed to reject issues that effect not just me, a black veteran and an American but all of us.

As a victim of police misconduct I recognize the need for the protest. I was falsely arrested and that arrest dictated what opportunities were available to me in life. I’m pretty sure that covers the systematic oppression part of the protest.

At the end of the day people promote what they care about. However OUR American issue on race seems to be rejected while others are constantly pushed on the NFL platform.

Some players have to protest because it’s the only time the country is forced to pay attention. Until the vast majority of fans and, most importantly, Americans sitting in the stadiums and at home are just as upset and inspired to work as equalizers in their everyday thoughts and actions, bad people are going to use them to manipulate the narrative.

Since my resignation, I’ve received numerous expressions of positive reinforcement and support from people of all backgrounds, ages and positions on the subject. However, too large a volume of feedback has been negative and hurtful. One moment I’m a hero, the next I am scum.

What was the turning point? People now know that I understand and support the need for bringing awareness to social injustice and encourage using the anthem as a vehicle — a reaction I expected that plays largely into why I made my decision. I’m happy that people are being forced to have a conversation now, but if the topic of social injustice isn’t ‘welcome’ then neither am I.

I’m forever thankful for the fans who understand my position and continue to work as equalizers in their everyday thoughts and actions.”