When Ray Lewis retires, his legacy on the field will be secure, off the field will always be a different story. Despite the fact that Lewis has gone through an obvious change in his personality and actions over the last 13 years, there is still one day that will haunt him and hover over his name forever: Super Bowl Sunday 2000.
Here are the facts: on that night two of Lewis’ companions got into an altercation that resulted in the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, Lewis’ blood-stained suit from that night has never been found, Lewis eventually plead out to obstruction of justice allowing the murder charge against him to be dismissed, Lewis’ plea agreement lead to his testimony against his companions, and both of Lewis’ companions were eventually found not guilty.
Here is where I differ from many, many people and many sportswriters: I am able to separate who pro athletes are in competition and who they are outside of competition. In many cases, we are talking about two different people. It also helps in my writing because what I think of a player morally doesn’t play a part of how I think of them in competition. The two are different things and should be treated as such, but usually aren’t. This is important to me because it seems that people believe somehow that morality plays a part in performance. Sadly, the only evidence I’ve been given in my lifetime is that cleaning your act up results in poorer play than when you were acting wild. Yes there have been exceptions, but for the most part this has stood true. In other words, one legacy has to be sacrificed for the other.
Almost any athlete would choose to have their playing legacy remembered more than their legacy as a person. Generally this is because their actions as a person are ones they want forgotten. Part of me also believes that the reason a player’s morality is such a big factor in how people see them is the parental excuse that these are role models, even though they’re not curing any diseases, educating anybody, or engaging in any other more noble activity than playing a game for a living. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the greatest game invented in my opinion. However, I don’t negate a player’s legacy in the sport unless it’s something truly worth distancing myself from the athlete. A Jerry Sandusky type thing would make me distance myself from a player in a heartbeat, or if it was definitively proven that Lewis killed a guy I would have to distance myself in my writing from praising Lewis’ play as a football player.
When it comes to Lewis, he’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame inductee no question. His legacy in the game of football will be that of one of the most intense players to ever play the game and possibly the best linebacker to ever play the game. His legacy as a man can only be defined by what he has already done and what he will do in retirement. In other words, the incident in Atlanta will be a part of his legacy as a man forever, but it’s not the only part.