Ray Lewis’ career, one that has spanned 17 years and amassed countless accolades, is going to come to an end some time within the next few weeks. And whether or not it ends this weekend in the AFC championship or later in the Super Bowl, when all is said and done he will be considered one of the all-time greats at his position.
His legacy, however, is something much more complicated that will follow him long past his playing days.
For many, especially those here at the University of Miami, his career accomplishments solidify his greatness: He’s a 14-time pro bowler, a two-time defensive player of the year, a Super Bowl MVP, the only member of the 40 sack/30 interception club and has played his position longer than any other player in history.
Simply put, while on a football field, Ray Lewis is greatness defined.
Yet, for many others, there are other career statistics that detract from his grandeur:
A 2000 indictment for double-murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from a brawl outside an Atlanta nightclub that Lewis and his two friends, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, allegedly took part in.
And an undisclosed civil settlement to the family of Richard Lollar, one of the two men murdered in the case, for a civil wrongful death case.
Now I’m not writing this to condemn or exonerate Ray. The charges from the 2000 murder case were dropped for his admission of guilt to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice, as well as his testimony against Oakley and Sweeting, neither of whom were subsequently found guilty. The 1999 case was dropped because the prosecution lacked cohesive testimony. And reaching a civil settlement is far from an admission of guilt.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting that in the years following the 2000 trial, Ray has by many accounts changed his lifestyle for the better. He has since become an ordained Christian minister, and his charity, The Ray Lewis Foundation, has been responsible for numerous improvements and advances to the lives of underprivileged and at-risk youths in the Baltimore area. In 2010, a part of Baltimore’s North Avenue was renamed Ray Lewis Way in honor of his charitable work.
Still, in an age where most every sports star seems intent on destroying their image (see: Vick, Michael/Roethlisberger, Benjamin) it is impossible to separate one’s on-field performance from their personal life.
And that is why Ray presents perhaps the biggest conundrum of any sports star ever. No athlete has ever been accused of something so heinous, while later going on to accomplish so much good.
So what is Ray’s legacy? How should we judge him? By his own admission, Lewis has made many mistakes, his biggest being obstructing the investigation into the murder case in 2000, but by most accounts he has lived his life ever since as an example of charity and faith.
Do we dismiss all the good he has done and judge him for the double murder charges, or do we view him as an example of someone overcoming past mistakes to accomplish a greater good?
That is a question that will linger on far past these upcoming Sundays.