Super Athletes

Now that the Baltimore Ravens have won their second Super Bowl it might be well for us to reflect on an incident that occurred the year before Baltimore won its first Super Bowl. After a night of drinking, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and a couple of his friends were involved in the death of two young men outside a bar. Lewis made a “deal” with prosecutors by providing evidence against the other two men who were involved in the knifing of the young men and he got off with a slap on the wrist. The NFL then fined him $250,000 and suspended him from football for a year. Since that time he has presented himself as a changed man, helping young people live their dream, so he says. Some might even say he has redeemed himself. I wonder: redemption involves contrition, it seems to me.

In an interview prior to this year’s Super Bowl, Lewis answered a question by Shannon Sharpe about those killings 13 years ago. Lewis’ response, as reported by Yahoo News,  was garbled and it raised more questions than it answered:

It’s simple,” Lewis said when Sharpe asked him what he would say to the families [of the two slain men].
“God has never made a mistake. That’s just who He is, you see. And if our system – it’s the sad thing about our system – if our system took the time to really investigate what happened 13 years ago, maybe they would have got to the bottom line truth. But the saddest thing ever was that a man looked me in my face and told me, ‘We know you didn’t do this, but you’re going down for it anyway.’ To the family, if you knew, if you really knew the way God works, he don’t use people who commits anything like that for His glory. No way. It’s the total opposite.”

Aside from the terrible grammar which we have come to expect from those college graduates who play football, this answer, as Boomer Esiason noted on a CBS pre-game show, was hardly satisfactory. Esiason was quite blunt:

“He was involved in a double murder and I’m not so sure he gave us all the answers we were looking for,” Esiason said. “He knows what went on there. He can obviously just come out and say it. He doesn’t want to say it. He paid off the families – I get all that, that’s fine. . . . I appreciate you [Sharpe] going down there and asking him that direct question. I’m not so sure I buy the answer.”

Lewis blames the “system” for failing to get to the bottom of things. That system let the two men Lewis testified against go free because of insufficient evidence and charged Lewis himself with a misdemeanor. The murder has never been solved and the parents of the two slain youths still burn with hatred and anger at Lewis for the role he played in the death of their sons, whatever that might have been. He has nothing to say to the parents of the two men, apparently.

But, once again, we hear the bromide: “God never made a mistake.” It’s not Ray’s doing, somehow, it’s God’s doing. And He wouldn’t make a “mistake.” He wouldn’t have allowed Ray Lewis to become so successful if he had done those terrible things. That’s not how things work — at least according to Lewis. And one does wonder where Ray Lewis got his theology degree and how he knows what God would or would not do. But that consideration aside, we cannot help but note that Lewis never really answers the question what happened that night outside the bar. We may never know, but we can be certain that Lewis does.

In my view, Ray Lewis is the personification of what is wrong in professional sports — and we see it in the case of a number of other famous athletes who are never asked to account for their actions. But as long as they continue to win we forgive them. We ask only that they light up the field or the golf course, not that they live exemplary lives — despite the fact that these people are the only heroes our kids will ever know. That’s the way the culture works: it places athletes on a pedestal and insists that we give them their due homage. We adulate people because of what they can do in the sports arena or how much money they earn, not what kind of people they are. Ray Lewis will undoubtedly make it into the Football Hall of Fame. He was a great player, but is not much of a man.