Disclaimer: I am a Patriots fan.
So if you think my loyalties make me too bitter, biased or crazy to write anything worth reading about Ray Lewis, that’s fine. Click off this page. I won’t even know! That’s the beauty of the Internet.
However, if you’re the type of person who believes sports reflect something deeper than box scores and stat lines, I encourage you to keep reading. If you’re the type of person who has an emotional response to the names Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Michael Vick, and/or Ben Roethlisberger, then maybe this is a conversation worth having.
Turning athletes into idols and then tearing them down has been a part of sports as long as the games themselves (don’t believe me? Read this book). What’s puzzling to me is why Ray Lewis has escaped the fate bestowed upon the polarizing figures listed above and instead gets invited to do things like this:
Maybe it’s because most of us have forgotten or were too young to really understand what was going on with “the Ray Lewis murder trial” more than a decade ago. Here are the facts:
- At a Super Bowl party in Atlanta, Lewis was involved in an altercation that left two men dead from stab wounds. Lewis and two others were indicted on murder charges.
- Lewis pled guilty to a charge of obstruction of justice after admitting to lying to the police, and agreed to testify against his two codefendants.
- The clothes Lewis wore the night of the killings has never been found, and witnesses alleged that Lewis may have attempted to cover up the killings.
- He paid an undisclosed settlement to the families of both victims.
These facts can support dozens of potential theories as to what actually happened that night. Best case scenario, Lewis may have been simply trying to protect his friends before wising up and coming clean. Worst case, he got away with murder and tried to make his buddies take the fall for it. Truth is, we’ll never know so there’s no use in speculating.
Again, the real question is why, while other athletes like Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods lose endorsement deals without being convicted of a single crime, Ray Lewis gets to endorse what is literally the most non-threatening product in the world, as well as the ubiquitous Madden NFL:
It's true that winning seems to substantially boost the popularity of any controversial athlete, as Kanye West so eloquently points out with regards to LeBron James’ recent championship. Lewis, of course, was named Super Bowl MVP the season following his murder trial and his popularity has only risen since.
However, “winner” doesn’t seem to quite capture the essence of Ray Lewis the way it does for cutthroat competitors like Bryant and Woods. His success as a player is equaled, if not exceeded by his reputation as a passionate leader and dedicated teammate, prone to breaking out in tears after victories and making declarations like this:
“When you sacrifice something for God he will give you anything your heart desires if it aligns with his will; God kept telling me no weapon formed against me shall prosper.”
I found this quotation in a piece by James Skrmetta examining the double standard surrounding the respective unbridled religiosity displayed by both Lewis and a young quarterback you may have heard of named Tim Tebow. Why do we admire the passion of an admitted criminal, but vilify the same trait in a man who, by all accounts, has done nothing wrong at all short of failing to become a great NFL quarterback?
I don’t pretend to know the answers to any of these questions, but in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s game, I just couldn’t stop thinking about them. Lewis’ teary “National Anthem face” replayed over and over on my screen and Twitter exploded with congratulations from average Joe’s declaring that Ray “deserved to win.” I mean, what does that even mean? Besides cheating, how can you win a game and not deserve it? So why did so many people feel compelled to say it?
Perhaps I’m just a salty hater despondent over the combination of the Patriots losing and the thousands of Tom Brady Uggs jokes I’ve been forced to read and hear over the years. Regardless, people who care about sports can’t simply leave morality at the door while they watch a game, nor should they.
So if you think you’re up for some soul searching, all I ask is that you think about your own attitude towards Ray Lewis – whether you love him, hate him, or feel something in between – and ask yourself why you feel that way. You’ll be better off for it.
At least it’s better than sitting in your Mod and dwelling on the Pats losing.
Follow Robert Rossi on Twitter @RVRossi.