Sunday, October 2, 2022

After 26 faithful purple seasons, the Ravens have bullied me out of my seats and denied my media access

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For the many of you who have followed my career, life path and radio journey and are invested in WNST and Baltimore Positive, I will be attempting to communicate a very difficult and complex story in these next pages and telling a very somber and until-now, private tale about football, local media, power, access and lies.

I hope you read its entirety. I realize its uniquely lengthy, but this saves you from asking me more questions later. And you’re going to learn a whole lot along the way about the NFL and how the Baltimore Ravens do business these days if you stay with it. I promise.

And for all of you who feel deeply connected to me with whom I didn’t discuss this missive with prior to in any way, it’s simply because it was too personal to convey without being thorough. Perhaps someday you’ll commend me for having the courage to tell the truth. And, honestly after the way I’ve been treated, no one was going to talk me out of telling my truth and answering for why I’m no longer rightfully in the Meadowlands press box this Sunday for the season opener against the New York Jets, at press conferences this week asking Lamar Jackson questions or in the Ravens seats I’ve sat in (and paid for) since last century next weekend against the Miami Dolphins.

This is my story. This is the truth. And it must be told. In its entirety because it’s so outrageous as to be almost unbelievable.

Covering the Ravens is all I’ve ever done professionally since the team arrived in Baltimore in 1996, and this is how I feed my family and pay my bills as a small local business and AM 1570 radio operator and entrepreneur, so I suppose I’ll be getting asked about this for the rest of my life.

It has been my mission, job and public obligation to report the truth ­– about the football team and everything else for 31 years – and that’s probably why you’re still here: I’ve never lied to you.

The past year of professional bullying and the intimidation of my media status – and even the seats that I have paid for and sat in with my wife in Section 513 for a quarter of a century – by Baltimore Ravens Senior Vice President of Communications Chad Steele and the access to ask questions of the organization by the media, is not a simple story to tell.

As you will read, there is nothing “kneejerk” on my behalf and this not a recent development in my world. It’s a nightmare that I never believed would be sanctioned by a serious franchise that I have wholeheartedly supported and reported on for much of my adult life. Below, you’ll see quite a timeline. But, here we are.

And all I’ve ever tried to do is my job, same as I’ve done it since the team landed in 1996.

Since longtime P.R. man Kevin Byrne left the franchise in March 2020 and COVID ushered in an era of “no locker room access” for NFL reporters, it’s been a series of acts and aggressive changes in recent years that have led to me being unfairly excommunicated from being considered a media member by the franchise of Steve Bisciotti.

For the first time in the history of the Baltimore Ravens – and I asked the first question in franchise history of Art Modell on the Lot D dais on November 6, 1995 at the Parris Glendening press conference sitting in the front row next to a somewhat bewildered Peter King of Sports Illustrated – I will not be in the press box or allowed access to sit in the front row, first seat of the press room and ask the head coach of the franchise a question this week or at the game on Sunday in the Meadowlands, or apparently, ever again.

I have been thrown out of Owings Mills during the week and barred by the Baltimore Ravens franchise on game day as a working media member.

I think the kids would say I’ve been canceled by Chad Steele.

Someone should tell sports franchises that they don’t get to “fire” media members or radio station owners or columnists or writers or reporters like they are the hallway janitor. It’s not supposed to work that way, and the public shouldn’t accept it.

But this isn’t a story about whether I am a legitimate Baltimore sports journalist.

I am.

This is a story about Chad Steele deciding 20 years ago that he didn’t like me and now rising to power in Owings Mills and finding a conveniently what he-thinks-is-quiet way to (finally) throw me out after a plague as he’s taken full control, under new President Sashi Brown, of what’s left of the local media and created a larger lane for Ravens.com to operate as a state-run, all-good-news cheerleading media front with “reporters” who report only to and work only at the pleasure of ownership and still take up half of the press conference time during media time. That mission is a much-larger NFL initiative to make more money and stifle criticism.

And make no mistake about it: Steele has thought all along that no one would ever hold him accountable or that I wouldn’t ever tell the story you are about to read. Or that my “very small” audience or community somehow is so insignificant that he’ll softly dispose of me, like a snowflake, and walk away from my career vocation and passion quietly.

Or, perhaps, as I wrote to my longtime friend and now-retired Ravens PR director Kevin Byrne, who watched me build WNST from nothing through industriousness when he came to Baltimore from Cleveland, this heinous act will smell exactly like what is it: the bullying and the elimination of a dedicated, credible, local journalist by force.

Chad Steele told me over and over again – and I asked him three times on July 26th – to hold him personally and fully responsible for pulling my credential.

He wanted the power.

Now, he can have all of the glory of my “media” head on a stick, watching the Ravens games on television where I can’t ask his head coach or his players any questions about the games.

So, I have nothing to hide or be ashamed of other than not being more transparent publicly as the grift was unfolding – but Steele has been backing me up and trying to throw me out for quite some time.

I have also been mistreated for a long time and silent, which you might find shocking, given my well-earned reputation for being outspoken. Now, that I have (finally) been thrown out on any number of absurd, trumped-up and quite slippery faux “reasons” for my being eliminated, it’s time to turn the lights on and tell my story.

And in the end, I’m eternally sad knowing that Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is ultimately responsible for this decision, and my wife and I are aghast that he is somehow sanctioning this circus of a legitimate reporter that he knows has been bullied, gaslit and now, thrown out by one of his employees. In my heart of hearts, I thought he was a lot better person, steward and franchise owner than this – and that goes for Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh and anyone else considered “management” in the building who speak privately to me as a professional “friend” and know of my legitimacy as a committed, lifelong journalist, and they are now parroting and sanctioning a blatant company line and lie, that I’m somehow no longer a legitimate sports reporter in this city because a guy named Chad Steele says so.

I’m stunned by all of it. I’m a lifer Baltimore Ravens fan. My closets are full of purple, just like yours.

I have sold the purple brand credibility and bought the PSLs and tickets and airfares and hotels and message believing they were all better than this. I was the one helping Roy Sommerhof and Baker Koppelman sell a few thousand “Nasty Section” PSLs back in 1996.

This is a personal hit on me and my work and an attack on my credibility and my business for the work I’ve done since I was 15 years old.

On a personal level, I’ve dedicated so much of my time, money, heart and life energy and memories into supporting and loving the Baltimore Ravens that writing about the same $5 billion dollar global franchise sitting on the chest of my small, local, community-facing sports media business and AM radio station is suffocating.

Spiritually, it’s certainly not what I want to be focusing on as Lamar Jackson faces Joe Flacco in The Meadowlands on Sunday to kick off the NFL season.

But, don’t worry, I’ll be writing plenty about that as well. I’m not going anywhere. You can let Chad Steele know that right now. And we’ve talked wall-to-wall football all week on the radio side at AM 1570.

I’ll be here continuing to build WNST and Baltimore Positive. Talking about football. Writing about football. Thinking about football. Just like I have almost every day of my life since I discovered Joe Namath, Dante Pastorini and Bert Jones with my Pop at Memorial Stadium in 1974.

But there’s no way I’m going to be sitting home watching the games on television in further silence after covering virtually every game in the history of the franchise as a working and traveling professional with the ability to ask questions after earning my credentials through a lifetime of work and earnestness and credibility as a sports reporter in this city.

And when I’m not in my seats in Section 513 next week, and the many PSL holders in the seats behind me will ask Don Mohler or any number of my friends, “Hey, whatever happened to Nestor and Jennifer in those seats?” – this will tell a pretty ugly tale of how my wife and I were extracted from a place she loved so much that it’s all she talked about getting back to doing both times she contracted leukemia after she had a pair of life-saving bone marrow transplants in 2014 and 2015. As you can imagine, my wife and I loved our seats and days spent together with friends at Ravens games. It was important to us, a big part of our marriage and my commitment to my work, business, employees, sponsors and audience. (And if you ever went on a bus trip or attended any of our WNST purple pep rallies and functions, you know it was Jennifer Aparicio who did all of the heavy lifting. She still does!)

And this tale of my banishment is most certainly not a “Baltimore Positive” story, but it needs to be told on behalf of me, my wife and our sweat and dignity – and my community and anyone who has ever listened to my show or read a word I’ve written about the Ravens or anything else that has mattered to me and my audience.

I’m guessing they will never let me in again.

I’ve been told as much by management and ownership.

Repeatedly.

Why, you ask?

Because they can …

So today, I will stand up for me and my organization, and I will tell you exactly what Chad Steele has said and done since taking over for a decorated professional like Kevin Byrne. And you can judge the inherent dishonesty, gaslighting and professional bullying on its own merit.

I am a professional reporter. I’ve been taking copious notes on my treatment and been very silent on social media or anywhere else because I never really believed Bisciotti would sanction this madness – but I was wrong.

At some point, Bisciotti will realize he might have the wrong public relations “professional” running his team and not the wrong media members covering his franchise or the wrong lifelong fans sitting in Section 513, Row 1, Seats 7 and 8. (A place, literally, I probably would’ve wanted my ashes scattered until this episode.)

But, Bisciotti is an unconcerned billionaire living his best life and leaving the “day-to-day” to the very-community-green Sashi Brown to do foolish things like sign off on the intimidation and ban of legitimate media members as the first act of his local presidency and leadership.

I have every text thread, every email, and took notes on every word and false accusation. I did everything a professional, 53-year-old, grown up and business owner, and good human could and should do at every step of the way with regards to quietly speaking to “management” and “ownership” with regard to my shoddy treatment by a tall, handsome, chameleon P.R. guy, who has always acted far more like a locker room bouncer than a public relations or community facilitator toward me, my wife or my employees. He has been a human “stop” sign for as long as I’ve known him.

I asked Steve Bisciotti, Dick Cass, Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh – all of them repeatedly, and all of whom I have always liked, admired and whose company I have enjoyed professionally and socially over all of these years – for some kind of help or relief or a legitimate “private” ear to make this madness stop, to have a legitimate peace hearing because I seek no war – simply to do my job in peace. Well, here we are.

On a personal note, one that I made clear to all of them, is that I have never appreciated being looked down upon and spoken to like a farm animal by an out-of-town P.R. guy from the team that I loved and fought for long before he got his gig in Owings Mills.

As a citizen, reporter and a fan of the franchise and football, I have zero interest in having a food fight with the Baltimore Ravens. I’m 27 years into relationships with Baltimore Ravens employees and alumni and I can’t think of one other human – male or female, black or white, young or old, local or international – whom I didn’t like or get along with other than Chad Steele in that building in Owings Mills. And I swear there must be a thousand people over the years and generations that are still in my circle.

I love the people of the National Football League – the players and coaches and media. Some of the public relations people I’ve met through professional sports are amongst my closest friends, confidants and allies. I have whole families I am involved in because of my relationships throughout the league. I was in Latrobe, Pennsylvania last month and was welcomed with open arms by the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise as a media member and fellow human being for an August practice at St. Vincent’s by head coach Mike Tomlin.

I’m not a pariah, and I take umbrage with this treatment on behalf of my own dignity.

As anyone associated with me will tell you, I’m too busy doing good things and being productive every day to fight with a strangely aggrieved, tall, handsome man at the football team – or anyone else – around the clock at this point in my life. I spend my days in gratitude and immersed in hard work building a company that some foolishly believed was once left for dead.

My wife is not dead and neither is “Nasty Nestor,” WNST or Baltimore Positive.

I love what I am building and doing and the people I’m meeting and the stories I’m telling at Baltimore Positive. The Maryland Crab Cake Tour will begin again next Friday at Union Brewing and roll through the football season. I am a focused, well-adjusted adult and have no time for the petty games that Chad Steele has wanted to play over the last two years running a business and building an organization, post-COVID.

I’ve lived through a plague, watched my wife almost die twice and have my business wrecked two other times since Billy Cundiff missed that field goal in Foxborough a decade ago. Like Steele’s annual Super Bowl showcase buddy Tom Brady said recently, “I’ve got a lot of shit going on.”

Too much, quite frankly, to spend three days inking this insane missive for my whole world to justify my qualifications after owning a local sports radio station for 24 years and doing this professionally and locally all of my life at the age of 53.

This is where the gaslighting begins. The theory and premise begin with a brazen lie.

I naively thought only the likes of the Angelos family would behave with such professional thuggery and brazen intellectual dishonesty in front of a large audience who follow and respect my work. Clearly, I was wrong.

For the ears and eyes like yours that I’ve collected over the years, our work and coverage and civic support of the Baltimore Ravens is what most people discuss with me on the streets of Maryland wherever I go. It feels like a week never passes without bumping into someone who doesn’t tell me that they were in the New Orleans 2:52 March and Parade in 2013 or mentions some beautiful purple, family memory that involves me, them and the Baltimore Ravens.

This looks like fun but it’s hard, never-ever-ending, honest work building an enduring local brand on truth, integrity, industriousness and managing to keep a sense of humor amidst the madness of the world.

I work my ass off, around the clock, to make Baltimore Positive better so that I can make the world a better place. (That’s pretty obvious to most folks who follow my work.)

But, seriously, what serious human or Ravens fan or sentient being ANYWHERE in my world wouldn’t say that I “cover” the Baltimore Ravens and haven’t from the moment they were an embryo on the tarmac in Cleveland?

It’s an intellectual dishonesty so profound as to be absurd. Laughable. Disgraceful.

It is a lie.

I’ve covered virtually every game – home and away – from the inception of the franchise. I was stunned when I sat with Dick Cass last September that he had no grip on the fact that I had covered 180 of the 192 ROAD games in the history of the franchise and all 19 of the postseason games over the first 24 seasons. I could’ve wallpapered his vast Owings Mills office with my road press credentials from doing this work since I was 15 years old.

And, I don’t ever miss Ravens games without some serious reason like my wife’s cancer or the Y2K disease or bad games in December in similarly bad places like Cleveland or Buffalo. I missed a Monday Night game in Pittsburgh in 2007 to be with Cal Ripken in China. I missed the Buffalo game in 2019 to go to Tokyo and Seoul to see U2 with my wife. I remember the games I’ve missed because there have been so few. I have spent 4 a.m. mornings sleeping on the airport floor in Oakland and Providence and Indianapolis. I have taken fans on all night bus trips back and forth up and down I-70 and I-95 for half of my life, blogging and doing radio upside down through the Pennsylvania mountains – mostly sad, but sometimes they were the best hours of my life. I have spent Christmas alone in Pittsburgh. I have spent New Year’s Eves frozen in Cincinnati.

It’s my job. (Ask anyone …)

I even left my wife’s bedside – with her urging, and a terrible mistake that I realized the minute the plane landed at Sky Harbor in Phoenix – when she had her second battle with leukemia in 2015, so to insinuate that covering the Baltimore Ravens isn’t important to me is just something I’m not going to tolerate.

I’m going to push back – and hard – after having my integrity impugned and my credentials rescinded by a guy who has never cared for me, personally, or had an iota of respect for what I do for a living or whom I do it for in this community.

I even flew away to the lousy preseason games for a bunch of years. I’ve written two books on the team’s Super Bowl wins. I talk about the Ravens as a media member literally every day of my life. I am on WNST-AM 1570, a radio station I’ve proudly owned and operated and kept solvent and reliable over a quarter of a century, doing over 150 hours a week of relevant local conversation, primarily about sports when the games matter the most in football season. I feel like the body of my work and passion speaks for itself at www.baltimorepositive.com and our commitment to sports, the Ravens and local life and intelligent conversation has been apparent for three decades.

If you follow the hashtag #ColumnNes, you will begin to see my newest feature in old-school writing about sports twice a week. (Yes, this is a shameless plug!)

By any measurement across any number of social media platforms, there are more than 100,000 of you who interact with my work these days. Real local people like you who I’ve collected and said hello to or spent time with or have come into my world through our love of football, music, travel, yoga, kindness or any walk of life in the era of Baltimore Positive, where I sit and have Weis conversations with cool people doing great things all day, every day. I try to tell the best stories the city and our region has to tell. That’s what the Maryland Crab Cake Tour is all about.

But I can eat a crab cake and cover sports at the same time. It’s been going on for 37 years that way.

I’ve managed to build this modern, uniquely functioning little local media company continuously over three decades because you have supported me. You matter greatly to me, which is why I work as hard as I do and employ serious people like Luke Jones to cover Baltimore sports in a way that mentors like John Steadman and Jack Gibbons would take pride in via WNST and Baltimore Positive. I want every other person who showed me the right way to do things to be proud of this multimedia life and community I’ve built around my love of baseball, sports, journalism, music, newspapers and news, then radio and the Ravens and getting the story right for Baltimore sports fans.

I’m very grateful for all of your support over three decades, and I’ve never directly asked my audience for the kind of help I’m asking for this week and this season in defending the honor of my work. I’m asking a lot right now for you to simply read this and digest it and learn something about how the media and the NFL work through all of this.

I hope that how a local Dundalk kid, who spent his life doing this work diligently, is treated by a “local” billion-dollar sports franchise with regard to fair access and decency in general somehow might matter to you. That you will stand up for me and for what is right for fans and how earnest, local reporters should be treated when covering local sports.

I am the only local media member to have purchased PSLs and tickets to every home game in the history of the franchise since 1996. I am the only local media business owner who has ever employed a full-time reporter to be stationed in Owings Mills to report daily news and information in real time. One thing Chad Steele and I can certainly agree on: my man Luke Jones busts his ass and is a decorated professional in his own right, now 14 years into covering the Ravens daily better than anyone for WNST Baltimore Positive and on social media @WNST and @BaltimoreLuke. He is also the Pro Football Writers of America’s Baltimore chapter VP, and he presents the team MVP award to the media’s selected recipient every year. Luke Jones is one of the finest people I know – fair, decent, humble, brilliantly insightful and still learning and growing his innate love and encyclopedia knowledge for sports (despite his similarly sometimes-shoddy treatment as well on the “inside” as a journalist just trying to do his job) and his craft of writing. No one knows more about the Orioles or the Ravens or Baltimore sports history than Luke Jones. It is an honor to have him on my team. He is an asset to EVERY Baltimore sports fan and a trusted resource. And he knows and has witnessed my work ethic in busting my ass to help him feed his family since 2008 when he won a competition I annually hosted to give young people a chance to do sports media.

As for our WNST Baltimore Positive coverage this season, despite all of the ominous words and threats from Steele in the spring, I booked flights to every road game this year in New Orleans, Tampa, New England, Jacksonville, etc. like I’ve done every April for 27 seasons. It’s an easier year with the two New York games. I still have all of my flights and hotel rooms. Chad Steele flippantly told me in July to re-book Luke Jones on those flights. As if that’s even possible with the fares shifting and the money sunk? (Now, he’s my program director and travel agent, too? You can see where this is heading. And why it is so patently wrong.)

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