Nearly one year ago to the day that the Baltimore Ravens — exposed and embarrassed — cut Ray Rice following the video TMZ released of the Ravens running back knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator at an Atlantic City casino in February, the NFL embarked on a promotional campaign selling apparel to women.
The jersey they used in the ad? A Ray Rice jersey.
The spokesman they used to promote the value of women to the NFL? Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
How did the ad spot end? With a model wearing a Rice jersey, doing the “Ray Rice flex.”
In a seemingly bottomless pit of shame for the league, following the release of the TMZ video and the NFL and Ravens backtracking to cut their ties with Rice, its advertising campaign launched in September 2013 to sell product to women is particularly disgusting for the message that it delivered.
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According to the team’s own web site posting on Sept. 10, 2013, the ad “showcases a blend of glamorous, yet fierce women.”
How do they do this? With a fiery locker room speech by Harbaugh — the coach who, following the arrest of Rice on assault charges after the initial video showed him dragging his then-fiancee out of the elevator, declared “there are a lot of question marks. But Ray’s character, you guys know his character. So you start with that.”
Yes, ladies. The coach wants you to start with Rice’s character.
That was not part of the promotional apparel campaign, which aired during the Ravens season opener last year against the Denver Broncos
They showed portions of a Harbaugh speech from 2009: “You got the hearts of lions. Good things, bad things, it doesn’t matter, that’s who you are. … And everyone’s talking about what we couldn’t do, and what we wouldn’t do and what we shouldn’t do, right? You did it week after week, day after day.”
Haunting words today.
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“You’ll see a certain confidence in the women’s attitude, expression and look,” Jaime Weston, the NFL’s vice president of brand and creative, told baltimoreravens.com. “We set out to marry a coach’s locker room speech with the spot, but not just any locker room speech, rather a speech that transcended well beyond the X’s and O’s of football. Coach Harbaugh’s speech nailed it as he spoke to the team’s heart, grit and determination. Having some of the women mouthing some of the words increased the overall intensity and attitude of the women.”
Fast forward nearly one year later to a team’s “heart, grit and determination” after the organization was shamed into action when the video was made public.
“It changed things of course,” Harbaugh told reporters Monday night. “It made things a little different.”
I would say it “increased the overall intensity and attitude” of the Ravens organization toward domestic violence.
“When we listened to those words we thought it was a speech that could transcend to our fans,” Weston said. “It didn’t hurt that they are Super Bowl-winning champions. Nothing was better than the Ray Rice jersey at the end with the model doing his pose. It perfectly summed up the spot.”
Yes — the NFL sold jerseys to women using the Ray Rice “pose.”
“The Ray Rice ‘flex’ was the perfect exclamation point for the end,” Weston said.
Think about this — marketing officials used the “Ray Rice flex” to sell the game to women. A few months later, just down the hall, the commissioner was meeting with Rice to figure out how to reduce the damage that the “Ray Rice flex” caused on an Atlantic City casino elevator.
According to the team’s website, Harbaugh was “impressed” by Ravens female fans.
“I didn’t know that 45 percent of fans were women, but now that I think about it, being out around town, I believe it,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, there are women that are so knowledgeable, they are really positive for the most part, they are really supportive. Women know the game, totally know the game.”
Actually, women really know the game now — the business of the game. The NFL and the Baltimore Ravens taught them that lesson.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.