LOS ANGELES, February 1, 2013 — When the Baltimore Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl (47) XLVII, many eyes will be on Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Win or lose, this is his final game.
After seventeen years, he will be a retired football player the minute the final gun sounds. He is a guaranteed first ballot enshrinee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. He leaves as one of the greatest defensive players ever along with Mean Joe Greene, Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, Ray Nitschke, Lawrence Taylor, and Reggie White.
He was one of the game’s toughest and smartest football players. His work ethic had no peers except for Jerry Rice and Peyton Manning. He is also one of the great NFL characters. His “Electric Slide” thrilled sports and dancing enthusiasts everywhere. His pregame ritual is pure testosterone.
“What time is it? Game time! What time is it? Game time! Any dogs in the house? Ruff ruff ruff! Any dogs in the house? Ruff ruff ruff.” When the 2000 Ravens won their only Super Bowl, head coach Brian Billick had to walk into the stadium after Lewis danced the crowd into a frenzy. Billick was heard asking “How do you follow that?”
While many players struggle after retiring, Lewis will transition easily to the studios and be a great League ambassador. While he never dishonored the game of football, off-field incidents have many people denigrating Lewis. They attack his character and gleefully rootfor him to fail. One column in “Deadspin” entitled “The Hater’s Guide to Ray Lewis” is too vile and profanity-laced to receive a link.
As somebody who loves football so much that my column is entitled “Narcotics For Leatherheads,” let’s properly defend Ray Lewis and the way he plays defense. His critics should be verbally blasted like a running back trying to get past Lewis on 4th and goal from the one.
One criticism of Lewis is his fathering several children with multiple women. So what? He raises his children. They are well provided for, and he is an active parent. The biggest complaint his children have is his (allegedly) Monopoly cheating. How many fathers play Monopoly with their children? With many deadbeat dads in America, Lewis’s children have a real father.
Another criticism just surfaced this week, accusing Lewis of taking an illegally banned substance this year while recovering from an injury. Lewis vigorously denies the charge, which should end the discussion unless contrary evidence appears. Among Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones, Americans are conditioned to believe every athlete cheats.
Lewis trains obsessively and this story’s timing reeks. After seventeen years of play to, bring up an allegation right before the Super Bowl is dirty pool. Even athletes deserve the presumption of innocence, and unlike other sports organizations, the NFL actually has real drug tests. The best football players do not need to cheat. Lewis has rare ability and talent, and trying to make him the next Lyle Alzado is totally unfair, absent any proof.
The biggest accusation against Lewis is the “incident.” In January of 2000, Lewis and some friends were at an Atlanta nightclub. The 1999 season just had its Super Bowl, several months before the Ravens would begin their championship season. Mayhem broke out, and two individuals were killed. Ray Lewis was charged with double homicide. There was just one problem.
Lewis may be one of the only people ever accused of murder without being accused of killing anybody. Wrap that around your head for a few moments. He was accused of homicide but not killing anyone. The prosecutor never alleged that he killed anybody, only that he witnessed who did.
A heavy-handed prosecutor went celebrity hunting for a wall trophy. The prosecutor should have immediately made a deal with Lewis to testify against the accused killers. Eventually that deal happened, long after the weakness of the cases against all the men was exposed. Lewis was thrown in jail and had his reputation shattered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Lewis flatly denies knowing who killed the victims. No court of law has convicted him of any crime. Murder charges were dropped. This was not because he was rich, powerful or famous, but because he did not kill anyone.
How many people who are convinced that Lewis is hiding the truth have spent time in prison for a crime they were not even accused of, much less convicted? Lewis’s not wanting to discuss the incident under these circumstances is perfectly understandable. This will not comfort the victims or their families, but Lewis was also a victim of circumstances. Some people killed other people, and the celebrity received the blame.
Some people even attack Lewis for being “religious.” He does mention God in every interview. Yet he does not praise himself or say that God praises him. He has repeatedly said that “God does not make mistakes,” and that everything is “God’s will.” Anybody can praise God during good times. When the Ravens lost a crushing defeat in last year’s AFC Title Game, he insisted the loss was also God’s will. Praising God during times of adversity shows character, and yes, humility.
So yes, defending Ray Lewis is the right thing to do. He is a loving father, a great athlete, and a citizen leading an honest life devoted to God. As he often says, “Success is one thing. Impact is another.” The NFL documentary “A Football Life” shows his positive impact on many people in his community.
Twelve years ago I rooted against him. Sitting at the fifty yard line, front row, watching my beloved Oakland Raiders lose the AFC Title Game at home to his Ravens was agonizing. This time I am totally rooting for him. The Super Bowl is supposed to be a celebration of football’s best. Lewis is one of the greatest football players to ever play. That is his legacy.
What time is it? Game time! The dogs are in the house!
Ruff, ruff, ruff! Go get ‘em Ray.
Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian who is obsessed with the National Football League. There is no offseason. Every February he pretends to care about other sports while sobbing uncontrollably each Sunday until September. Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.”
Follow Eric on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog.
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