Ray Lewis is statistically one of the best linebackers in NFL history.
In just over a week, the entire world will celebrate Super Bowl Sunday. It is the one day each year that people who do not spend a single second watching the regular season or reading up on their favorite team will sit down to watch two teams battle it out for the Lombardi Trophy. In the process, those watching will be filled with hours of pregame hype and storylines.
While the most prominent will be the battle of the Harbaugh brothers, coming in at a close second will be the story of Ray Lewis.
Lewis will be playing his final game on the biggest stage, Super Bowl XLVII at the Superdome in New Orleans. Lewis has been one of, if not THE, best linebacker in the modern era of the NFL. He has been named to 14 Pro Bowls, has been a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was the MVP of the lone Baltimore Super Bowl win, back in 2001.
Based on his production, Ray Lewis should be considered a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and deserving of that award on the first ballot his name appears.
But can the entire story of Ray Lewis be told just with statistics?
Of course, how can you forget the attitude and passion he brings to the game. Ravens fans anxiously await the introduction at every home game of their conquering hero so they can see him dance his way out to the field.
And how can you deny that Lewis is the king of the pregame huddle? Lewis seems to know just what to say to get his teammates fired up before they hit the field. Lewis is a sportswriter’s dream, providing multiple quotes and opinions that fill newspapers each week.
Is Ray Lewis a Hall of Famer?
With those qualities added together with his on-field production, Lewis is without a doubt a lock for enshrinement into the hallowed halls of Canton, Ohio as soon as he is eligible.
Not so fast.
While redemption and religion are a big part of Lewis’ life, you cannot tell the story of Ray Lewis without mentioning the events of Super Bowl Sunday in 2000.
Two friends of Lewis’ were allegedly responsible for a fight and the murder of two men outside of an Atlanta nightclub just hours after the Super Bowl. While Lewis was not found guilty of murder, he did end up pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and sentenced to 12 months of probation.
Lewis may not have been involved in the fight, but it did appear that there was a cover-up attempt by Lewis and his entourage. As part of the plea agreement Lewis reached, he had to testify against the two friends of his who were in fact charged with murder.
The two men were never convicted of murder, as there did not appear to be sufficient testimony against them.
However, Lewis reached an undisclosed civil settlement with the family of one of the victims in a civil wrongful death case.
While reaching a settlement does not admit that Lewis was in fact guilty, it does lead one to believe that he knew what had happened or that in fact there was more to the story than what was told. While Lewis may not have ever been convicted, criminally or civilly, why agree to a plea deal if you are innocent? If you know you are not guilty, let the legal system run its course and be proven innocent.
Regardless of what Lewis did or didn’t do, he was a part of that night.
With all of that said, no one is denying that since that time Lewis has changed his life.
Since the incidents of 2000, Lewis has become vocal in his faith and how it has changed his life. Lewis has even become an ordained minister. Lewis has raised money through the Ray Lewis Foundation to help children in the Baltimore area.
The former first-round pick from the University of Miami has changed from his old ways, but you cannot tell his story without mentioning his past transgressions.
So should Lewis be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Should we celebrate the great career of Ray Lewis on Super Bowl Sunday?
Based on the national media and the perception of the public, the answer is yes. Lewis will be celebrated for his on-field production.
Why does Lewis get a free pass on what he has done wrong? While there are others who have committed crimes lesser in terms of their effect on others, they have been shunned by their sport.
Who, you ask?
What about Pete Rose? The all-time hits leader in Major League Baseball is banned from the game and will never be allowed into Cooperstown because of his gambling problems.
Lance Armstrong? He won seven consecutive Tour de France titles, beat cancer and has raised millions of dollars for cancer research. But because he used performance enhancing drugs, he is banned from competitive cycling.
Need other examples?
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Michael Vick, Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno.
All of those individuals, including Rose and Armstrong, broke the law in some way or broke the laws of their sport.
Do they deserve to be punished in some way for the things they have done? Absolutely.
But there has to be some semblance of consistency in the media and public perception. If you are going to judge Lewis based solely on his on-field performance, then you should (in fairness) judge those others the same way.
One can argue that Lewis was never convicted of murder, and that cannot be disputed. However, Lewis was a part of a group who was at minimum, involved in the fight that led to two deaths.
You cannot deny what Ray Lewis has done on the field. He has defined greatness on the field.
Super Bowl Sunday will be filled with hours of talk about Lewis and his faith and charity work. Analysts on multiple networks will urge us to soak in the moment of the final game of Lewis’ career because he is one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Many will do so. Many will only remember Lewis for what he did on the field and call him a hero, a role model and a Hall of Famer.
However, there will be two families who cannot enjoy Super Bowl Sunday. For all of the talk about Lewis and his greatness, they will be watching the game (or not watching the game) while missing members of their families. Two families will watch Lewis and not see him for his greatness, but see him as being somewhat responsible for the loss of their loved ones.
Lewis is great on the field. Off the field? That’s for you to decide.