Sports kept him alive, now Sherrod Baltimore is living his dream in the CFL
OTTAWA - Sherrod Baltimore knows better than most that the Canadian Football League is a league for second chances.
When Baltimore graduated from the University of Maine in 2015, he was not drafted by any team in the National Football League. Pro teams in the U.S. figured Baltimore wasn’t fast enough or tall enough to compete at the highest level. So Baltimore shifted his gaze to coaching and began working with his former college program.
But when Ottawa RedBlacks scout Jean-Marc Edme showed up one afternoon, Baltimore asked if Edme would review his game film. And then for weeks, Baltimore followed up with a flurry of daily text messages asking Edme whether he had reviewed the video highlights.
The persistence paid off. Baltimore was signed by Ottawa, won the team’s rookie of the year award in 2017, and is now a member of the team’s full roster, making about $90,000 per season, according to a source.
While he has not started every game for the RedBlacks in 2019, a new wrinkle in the CFL’s labour agreement with its players association may help Baltimore. Among a CFL team’s American-born starting players, three must have played at least three years with their existing team or four years in the CFL. The change is an effort to protect veterans and establish continuity and familiarity of players for fans.
I first heard about Baltimore from RedBlacks owner Jeff Hunt, who suggested that Baltimore’s story would be worth consideration of a documentary feature. He was right. Baltimore and his family opened their home to us, sharing their story of perseverance and hope.
Violence was a daily occurrence in the neighbourhoods where Baltimore grew up. He was robbed at gunpoint when he was 12 and his cousin was murdered in what was believed to be a targeted shooting. Our TSN/W5 crew interviewed Baltimore’s former high school football and basketball coaches. They also identified Baltimore as a special player. High school football coach Ray Farmer shared that Baltimore was so well liked that rival gangs from the Washington, D.C., area would call a truce and come to watch Baltimore play high school football.
“Playing sports kept Sherrod alive,” Farmer told me during a phone call in July. "The streets here are bad now, but they were way worse back then. We're blocks from Washington. Kids would come over to fight the Maryland kids. Me personally, I lost a lot of friends who were killed. Some were random, a lot were gangbangers and targeted. Most were drug related. Drugs are everywhere.”
There are a number of great moments and scenes in our story. And more that didn’t make it in.
I recall one story shared by Baltimore’s uncle Tre that was emotional, but didn’t make into our piece.
“He never let the surroundings get to him,” Tre said in a phone conversation before we flew down to do our interviews.
“He always had the same smile. I'd drive up and go pick him up off the street corner and he’d have the same smile on his face with chaos going on around us," Tre said, describing Baltimore as kind and respectful.
"I remember my wife’s grandma coming down from Montana for my wedding. We’re all at my apartment and Sherrod is sitting in the corner with grandma. They’re just laughing and joking and hugging, sitting there for hours.
"Everyone else was like, 'What do they have in common? What could they be laughing about?' That’s just Sherrod. He likes everybody.”