There are two things that most people cannot and will not argue about Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis – he is arguably one of the best linebackers to ever play in the NFL, and he was somehow involved in the tragic events at an Atlanta night club on January 31, 2000 that resulted in the deaths of two men.
After that, determining Lewis’ legacy gets a bit murky and subject to debate.
Lewis will be playing in his final NFL game when he takes the field for Super Bowl XLVII, and he has the opportunity to do what few great players have been able to do – go out on top, and walk away into the sunset as a winner and hero. But what of the personal off-field issues that have dogged Lewis for the last 13 years?
There are some that would argue that Lewis’ past is in his past, and that since pleading out his part in the double-murder case, he’s lived his life with renewed faith and strength and has become a model citizen and ambassador for the NFL.
Others would say that Ray Lewis got off easy and used the justice system to his advantage in pleading to the lesser offense of obstruction of justice, and that regardless of what he’s done since then, nothing can atone for the loss of two lives.
I say, they’re both correct positions.
I’m never going to argue Lewis’ greatness on the field. He’s been one of the best at his position for too long, and his leadership in the locker room can never be understated. But I do feel that some of the “look at me” posturing that Lewis does in his interviews, features and on-camera performances while on the field give me a sense of insincerity about him and his motives.
The heartfelt exposés, the emotional outbursts, the eyes tearing up on the sidelines…I’m just not buying most of it. It’s a little too choreographed for my liking. He reminds me of the teenager who’s been caught in a serious infraction of parental rules, and suddenly goes into a tornadic burst of chores and extra work around the house.
Yes, Ray Lewis certainly has changed his life since his incredibly close brush with a prison sentence, and he’s shared his story with many, constantly reminding those listening not to repeat “the mistakes I’ve made”. But rarely does he go into detail about what those mistakes are, and how serious things could have gotten had he continued making certain lifestyle decisions.
He plead guilty to a lesser offense rather than enduring a murder trial, and was punished accordingly. I don’t have a problem with that, it’s how our legal system works and it’s the same for anyone. But that plea bargain and his subsequent change of heart and faith are really pointless without the allocution.
Without Lewis coming out and saying in essence “Yes, I played this part in the deaths of these two men and it’s something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.”, is his change in lifestyle rendered powerless? He said he helped to obstruct the investigation and he paid a settlements to the victims of the families involved. In my humble opinion, it’s still not enough.
To me, one of the first steps in proving that you are truly repentant for a crime is to admit that you’ve actually committed the crime, and I’m just not convinced that Ray Lewis has ever actually done that. He’s the 12-step program participant that skips over a step just because it might be an easier path to his own redemption.
The legacy that Lewis leaves behind as a football player will always be clouded by his personal choices, and only Lewis can take responsibility for that. I can celebrate and admire his accomplishments on the field, but I will always have a difficult time putting him up on that pedestal of greatness that many have placed him upon.
Perhaps one day, if he comes out and gives a detailed account of his involvement in the deaths of those two men, I will see him differently. For now, he’s just a great player who continues to hide in his heart of hearts what his crimes actually were.