And my views on Ray Lewis are, of course, completely objective. No, really...or perhaps as objective as I want them to be.
But with his retirement from the NFL approaching, mercifully for all non-Ravens fans, it's time to speak some truth about Ray Lewis. Take him for what he is, but nothing more than what he is. That includes Ray Lewis both on and off the field.
Lewis is, arguably, the greatest linebacker of all-time, and is certainly in that category for middle linebackers. I say "arguably" because the NFL is one of the most difficult sports leagues for era comparisons. Most of us did not see the likes of Bednarik, Nitschke, Butkus, or Huff. Memories of Lambert, Singletary and Taylor are somewhat faded.
Even in an era in which we reward hype over substance and blow the last thing that happened far out of proportion, Lewis is still among the greatest, if not THE greatest. For a number of years, he was literally un-blockable. And Lewis would be that in any era of pro football history. I'm not sure that some of those listed above would have that same ability.
At the same time, for the last 5-7 years, his career has been a roller coaster ride that is more talk than action. The unceasing sports media coverage loves to watch "Ray-Ray" dance, talk, paint up his face and jump around on the turf every time he almost makes a tackle. Sometimes, he looks as spectacular as ever; but at other times, he looks like a man who has been caught by age and injuries. In other words, he looks human, no matter how much he talks or dances in between plays.
Lewis has often not even been the best linebacker on his own team, much less player on the defense. There was a much-discussed feud with Ed Reed over which star controlled the locker room. While Lewis still makes a lot of tackles, he makes a lot of them 5+ yards down the field. During the Ravens' AFC title victory over New England last Sunday, Lewis was often pushed around by a moderately physical Patriot line.
Praise Ray Lewis for being an all-time great, and one who may gather his strength for one more great game. But recognize that he is the same as so many NFL players. He is an aging veteran that is nowhere close to what he once was.
Then there is the issue of Ray Lewis off the field. Many applaud his "turnaround" following an arrest on felony murder and a conviction for obstruction of justice. Sports Illustrated did an article about his commitment to his faith. Christians cheer his quoting of scripture and his spiritual direction in life. I join in that applause, but I have serious problems with Lewis' theology and "role model" status.
A murder did happen, in Lewis' presence. He paid the families of the two victims in undisclosed settlements that stemmed from wrongful death suits. He has never married, but has six children from four different women. Quoting scripture in front of the cameras doesn't make either of those things go away, nor does it excuse them.
So what are we to do with Ray Lewis and his legacy? Does his charity work make up for the loss of two lives? Does his past greatness on the field compensate for his faults in dealing with family and relationships? Do we look at the loving, giving side in spite of the mouthy, dancing prima dona that loves to be in front of the mics and cameras?
A woman on the NFL Network special on "A Football Life" said to Lewis, "I'm telling both of my sons I want them to be just like you." I believe in forgiveness and redemption are possible for all, but that doesn't mean I want my children to follow the "example" of Ray Lewis. I'm sorry, but I'll choose some other role models for my children.
We don't need to make Lewis into more than he is, as we often tend to do with celebrities (particularly those who love to be the center of attention). At the same time, we don't need to cast him to the side as worthless because of the mistakes that he's made. With another week of pre-Super Bowl hype to come, we need to take Ray Lewis for exactly what he is.
He's an all-time great linebacker and football player who is flawed as a human being. He's a loving, caring, giving person who has serious gaps in his character. In other words, he's like the rest of us (other than the great linebacker part). He is both great and flawed. He makes some good choices and bad choices. He professes Jesus as Lord and struggles to live out what that means.
In other words, he's just another human being who believes in Jesus Christ.
Rather than telling our children to be like him, we should tell them to learn from him--and that includes both the good and the bad. The good can teach us to be good, and the bad can challenge us to be better.