On Ray Lewis, Murders, and Media Timidity
Don’t get me wrong: Lance Armstrong is also an asshole. Anyone who can look someone in the eyes and coolly declare a no-half-truth-about-it lie warrants such a description. And Armstrong didn’t just deny cheating; he sued those who correctly claimed he did. So yeah, he’s a first-class asshole.
But let’s not forget that, in the end, Armstrong lied about cheating in a sport that is apparently filled with cheaters.* Now compare that with Ray Lewis, who lied about a double murder investigation. Yet when it comes to media portrayal, Armstrong gets vilified while Lewis gets deified.
National media pundits had no trouble skewering Armstrong’s legacy with an unfettered resolve as reports of his performance enhancers came to light. But those same voices scoff at reader suggestions to probe into Lewis’s involvement in the murders of the two Akron boys in Atlanta. I guess it’s taboo to note that lingering, inconvenient cloud; one that became easy to ignore as it gradually faded over the past thirteen years. Much easier to sweep it under the rug than risk it uncomfortably destroying an otherwise inspiring tale.
But now that it is Lewis’s well-documented “final ride” into the playoffs, questions of what legacy he will leave behind have come back to the forefront. And for the media, which has the biggest stage, to ignore such a vital component to understanding his legacy is cowardice.
Now I’m not channeling King Joffrey and calling for Lewis’s head on a stake. I don’t know what happened that night in Atlanta in 2000. I’m just asking for it to be a part of the discussion. I’m also not questioning his football resume, which is stellar, nor his ability to inspire teammates. After listening to one of his interviews on NFL Films, his passion ignited my adrenaline; I felt like I could run through a brick wall.
My point is that when discussing Ray Lewis’ character, the murder trial deserves more than a blind eye.
If you want to argue that off-field issues shouldn’t affect his on-field legacy, that would be a fair point. I understand that steroid or gambling allegations can directly affect a player’s performance, so it’s an obvious topic of conversation when discussing someone’s Hall-of-Fame credentials. But to ignore the persona Ray Lewis has built would be to ignore reality. As great as he has been on the field, his stats compare rather similarly to London Fletcher. But Fletcher doesn’t appear on Madden covers, doesn’t star in commercials with Paul Rudd, and doesn’t enjoy effusive praise from ESPN in part because he is not a celebrity like Lewis. So it is fair discussion to have.
Lewis also makes it a fair discussion through the role he’s built for himself. With every biblical verse and motivational speech, he parades himself as the champion of changed men. And if you watched the AFC Championship game, you probably saw him crying during the National Anthem; at least he did his best to make certain you did.
If all of his changes are legitimate, then that is undoubtedly a good thing. The world is clearly a better place when men change for the better. But—and this is admittedly judgmental—the tears appear too calculated, too staged. And, more importantly, how can one truly be the poster-boy of atonement when he remains silent about a thing like murders and to this day fails to bring closure to two grieving families?
Now, please don’t bring up the “whatever happened to being innocent until proven guilty” shtick. For starters, Ray Lewis pled guilty to obstruction of justice for originally lying to police during the investigation. So bringing the murder investigation up in discussing his legacy is not some ignorant attempt to troll Ravens fans; he actually was guilty of an offense related to the murders.
Furthermore, his acquittal of other charges doesn’t fully remove the stench of the trial. Lewis and his friends got in an altercation with the two Akron men and they turned up dead. Lewis’ cream-colored suit he wore that night was never located. Witness statements to investigators did not align with their testimonies in court. Something seems afoul.
Sure, Lewis may have well acted courageously that night as a peacemaker and tried to stop the fight. I don’t know, but that’s not really the point. The fact remains that no one has been charged for the murders of those two young men, and that is in part due to Lewis’ inability to fully cooperate with the investigation.
All while two grieving families in Akron are subjected to coverage by national pundits lauding the linebacker for both his skill and virtue, afraid to broach that pesky, inconvenient cloud.
* - Also, let’s remember that Lance actually did have cancer and still won seven Tour de Frances against a bunch of other dopers. Considering how I refuse to ride a bike to school because that means I have to ride it up the hill by Little Italy on the way back home, I’m allowed to remain impressed.
And whatever else about his character flaws, he still parlayed that ill-gotten fame into one of the most successful philanthropic movements in memory.
UPDATE (1/29/13): Reports now coming out that Ray Lewis used Deer Antler spray (a banned substance) to speed up his recovery from his tricep injury. Deer Antler spray. Excuse me while I dust my shoulder off as my Lance Armstrong dichotomy became all the more salient.