The way America treats its celebrities is a strange thing. Our country has always been guilty of hero worship, and as fallen heroes like O.J. Simpson or Lance Armstrong or Pete Rose have proven, whatever you do, there’s always a crowd that will support you no matter what. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who will be appearing in the Super Bowl in nine days, certainly fits the bill, but even Lewis’s case is unique.
If you are reading this, you probably remember Lewis’s involvement in a double-murder that took place during the Super Bowl 13 years ago. Lewis certainly got his share of bad publicity after the incident – the NFL fined him $250,000, among other things – but within a year or two, people almost seemed to forget about it. I can’t remember that ever happening with anyone else; no matter where people stood on Simpson, Armstrong and Rose, their deeds still pop to the forefront of every conversation about them. My theory is that Lewis, through his over-the-top passion for playing (at an elite level, too), became such a cool and charismatic figure that it became uncool to speak about him in a bad way. Well, that, and the fact that the Ravens tried to intimidate everyone in sight from talking about it, too, but I’ll move on and leave that for all the sociologists to discuss at a different time.
Anyway, there are two very, very divided camps on Lewis now. One would prefer that we drop all mention of The Incident and celebrate Lewis for the great player he is, saying that the courts have ruled and we should move on. The other cries that justice was never done, and all the hero worship of Lewis now makes them only cry louder. Many have accused the second camp of self-righteousness and to a degree that may be true, but when a couple of people are dead and a guy who appears to know what happened isn’t helping police get to the truth for his own selfish reasons, it’s hard to discuss without a fair degree of bluntness.
I have traditionally sided with Lewis’s critics, but I also try to be fair. The facts of the case are not quite what most believe, so thanks to blogger Eric Thomas at CBSSports.com, this should clear some of that up. So in light of that, let me offer a different, more balanced take on Lewis than the extremes on both sides.
Let’s look at the post-2000 Lewis. He claims to have found God at some point, and if you look at the charitable work he’s done through most of his career, there is most definitely a good side to Ray Lewis. Yes, Lewis does have six kids in spite of never marrying, at least one of whom came after his conversion. But at least he’s made a concerted effort to be in their lives, unlike the generations of his family before him.
Consider this also: many of Lewis’s critics are Christians, and two of the biggest heroes in Christianity were Moses and David, both of whom committed murder in their lives and yet still found God’s favor. Somehow, we’ve made it a requirement that all our Christian sports heroes fit the mold of Tim Tebow without a lot of wiggle room, and that makes it hard to fit in Ray Lewis, too.
I am not suggesting those things absolve Lewis of a role in a murder (if, and only if for the sake of argument here, that is what actually happened), but as you’re passing judgment on Lewis’s character as a whole, let the images of Moses and David as cold-blooded murderers sink in while you’re at it.
Lewis’s supporters want us to believe the best about him. They more or less insist he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The courts passed judgment on him, and we should, too, they say. But there’s are still a pair of young men lying six feet below ground whose mothers don’t have an explanation for what happened, and guilty or not, Lewis was there.
And that is my beef with Ray Lewis. Right or wrong, he knows things that can bring grieving people some closure, and he’s refused to give them.
I’m sure Lewis has his reasons for silence. Maybe his lawyers have advised him not to talk. Assuming the best about Lewis for a moment (that he’s completely without blame), I might not want to dredge up that subject if I were in his shoes, either. But Lewis hasn’t exactly been camera-shy when the media has come to worship at his feet for his good deeds, and he shouldn’t be now when there are still tough questions to be answered, and especially when there are families who can’t quite get on with their lives 13 years later.
America has always forgiven its heroes, even for their worst offenses, once they’re honest about him. Lewis’s worst critics should as well, but that doesn’t mean they should stop asking tough questions. Ray Lewis has dodged them long enough. At the end of his career, it’s finally time for some answers.