After season of ‘trial and error,’ Ravens WR Rashod Bateman staying true to himself
- January 19, 2024
The Ravens have one of the loudest home crowds in the NFL, an environment that’s both tough on opponents and energizing for many of Baltimore’s players.
For Ravens third-year wide receiver Rashod Bateman, however, it’s the early morning quiet long before kickoff where he finds solace and is able to tame his mind and emotions.
“We talk before and after every game,” Bateman’s mother, Shonda Cromer, 48, told The Baltimore Sun. “I get up early enough to do my normal prayer with him. I always tell him, go out there and have fun.”
That’s been easier said than done at times this season for the 24-year-old former first-round draft pick.
As Bateman first told The Sun in September, he struggled physically last summer and believed that he needed another foot surgery after the season-ending Lisfranc procedure he’d undergone in November 2022. He also had a hard time emotionally after his grandmother died of cancer and his teenage cousin killed himself within months of one another early in 2023. And at times throughout this season, he has questioned himself when it comes to his role on the team.
Despite elite speed, precise route running and great hands, his 32 catches ranked fifth and his 367 yards sixth on the Ravens during the regular season. He also caught just one touchdown pass, in a Thursday night home win Nov. 16 over the Cincinnati Bengals, and dropped another, in a brutal 17-10 loss Oct. 8 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After the game, he declined to speak to the media, then briefly deleted his X account (formerly known as Twitter).
It was just one of a few signs of the internal battle he has been dealing with over the past several months.
“Things were so hard for him, really for all of us, losing my mom and then my nephew right behind it,” Cromer said from Tifton, Georgia, where she raised Bateman and now lives in the house he bought her a few months after Baltimore drafted him 27th overall in 2021. “Rashod was so frustrated [by another foot injury] he just tried to push through. Just making it through the season is a big accomplishment for him. I told him don’t worry about the naysayers because everybody has opinions and nobody knows what’s going on. I’m proud of him.
“At first, [the NFL] was hard for him … he came home one day and he said, ‘Mama this is not like playing college football.’ He said, ‘this is a business.’ But he caught on. … I think it gets in his head a little; he wants to succeed so bad. He’s anxious, but he’s ready now.”
Finally, Bateman feels he is, too.
He said this season has been one of “trial and error,” but that he has also tried to simplify his approach. Winning has helped, too.
The Ravens (13-4) finished the regular season with the best record in the NFL and are the top seed in the AFC playoffs with home-field advantage through the conference championship game. They’ll begin their quest for a Super Bowl title in earnest Saturday against the Houston Texans, whose vulnerable secondary has allowed the sixth-most explosive completions (91) in the league this season, according to TruMedia.
Given Bateman’s skill set, it’s an area that the former University of Minnesota standout can help exploit.
“I know I can make plays,” he told The Sun. “For me, [it’s] just [about] opportunity. But it’s not just about me. It’s about this team and how I can help this team and now I understand what my role is and that’s just to help the team in whatever way is possible.”
That’s what he did last month against the Dolphins.
In a battle for conference supremacy and with the top seed on the line in Week 17, the Ravens blew out Miami, 56-19. Bateman had a season-high six catches for 54 yards and in the locker room afterward was summoned to the center of the celebration by coach John Harbaugh, who shouted out “Big Day Bate!” and embraced him. As the room hushed, Bateman spoke with verve of how much he loved playing with his teammates, that he’d been through a lot and how “amazing” the moment felt.
What he’s been through has been well-documented, but it bears repeating: As a young boy, Bateman was witness to the cries of his mother as his drunken stepfather beat her. Even after she divorced him, life was hard, with Cromer and her three boys moving around rural Georgia often, at one point living in a trailer and sometimes going without running water or electricity. And even when Bateman was a star in college, his uncle, Anthony, died suddenly.
“Your struggles are either going to break you or make you greater,” said Leah Knight of Roc Nation, who now represents Bateman after he switched to the agency in early October. “He’s used them to become a better version of himself.”
Off the field, that’s included delving deeper into fashion, with plans to launch his own apparel line soon. He’s also found joy in helping others. In October, Bateman dressed up as “Batman,” of course, as Ravens players hosted a Halloween party for kids at a local Ronald McDonald House.
On the field, he’s tried to be just as intentional with his devotion to his craft, being one of the first receivers on the field at practice each day, staying healthy and maintaining a positive outlook in the face of keyboard warriors on social media, even as he averages 3 1/2 targets per game.
Those around him have noticed, too.
“I believe [he’s a] very dangerous [playmaker],” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “But we have so many guys — great receivers and great tight ends and great running backs. Everyone can’t shine at once. Everyone is going to shine all together. He can’t get all the flowers he deserves, but to us, he definitely gets his flowers because he is one of the [key contributors].”
Bateman hasn’t put up the kind of numbers he hoped for this season, but he isn’t letting that weigh on him now. And he figured out something else along the way to help guide him.
“I feel like life is short,” Bateman told The Sun. “I’ve been through a lot, childhood up to now. I’ve just learned to cherish moments rather than, you know, just the game of football.
“My family is important, my mom’s important, my teammates are important. From Year 1 to now, though, the person I learned to depend on the most is myself. Nobody knows you better than you, so just being able to stack these days mentally has been good. I continue to stay true to myself, taking it one day at a time. That’s how I’ve been approaching this year and my life.”
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