Tarnished Legacy: Has Ray Lewis Tarnished His Legacy in Baltimore

Marco RomanellCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2009

With his comments and actions during this free agency period, many Baltimore fans are off the “Ray Lewis bandwagon” and believe his legacy will never be the same.

“With the 26th pick in the 1996 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens select Ray Lewis, linebacker, University of Miami.”

Those words uttered by Paul Tagliabue during the 1996 draft, will live in Ravens history for years. While many Ravens fans new Lewis was good coming out of college, few expected him to be the heart and soul of this franchise for 14 seasons.

Lewis—who has been a Raven his whole career—is currently on the free agent market and could be in a different uniform next season and has been very vocal about this, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of many Ravens fans.

Ray Lewis has been the best middle linebacker in the NFL during his 14 year career and now facing his last contract, Lewis believes he should be paid as such. Now 34 and going into his 14th NFL season, Lewis is seeking a $25 million signing bonus as well as a three-year deal worth about $30 million.

Many people, including Lewis and his agent, thought that these kind of offers would be there for him; however, the only offer on the table is $17 million guaranteed contract from the Baltimore Ravens.

Lewis is currently in Florida and has yet to accept the offer, although many-including me- believe he will return the Ravens soon.

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Many comments- whether they were said directly by Lewis or not- make Baltimore fans feel like Lewis does not want to return and does not appreciate everything the city has done for him. Ray Lewis is viewed as a murder in 31 NFL cities and viewed as a great football player in only one: Baltimore.

This city stood by Lewis through the worst time of his life and the fans feel that they are “owed” for this and many are losing respect for Lewis for not giving a “hometown discount”.

Fan, is short for the word fanatic, which is a word associated with passion and adoration. Many “fans” watch their favorite players on the field and fail to realize they have lives off the field. Football—like any other job—is a business and people try to get rewarded for their effort.

While professional athletes make more in one season then the average person makes in their entire life, fans still shell out thousands of dollars to come watch these athletes. Many people fail to see that if they were in the same situation, that they would be doing the same thing as Lewis.

Any person, in any profession, who has been at the top of their profession for years sees lesser employees then themselves getting paid a more money then them, would definitely speak out about it and feel disrespected. Anyone who says would not take the most amount of money if they were offered it-even if it was by a different company- is lying.

Football players are professionals just like every other working person in this country and the Lewis case shows perfectly that fans do not see the business aspect of sports.

As Baltimore fans, we often feel disrespected in the sporting world; however, we are some of the most passionate, loyal sports fans in the world. Baltimore loves “their own” and we associate Ray Lewis as “ours.” Whether or not Lewis retires as a Raven or not, he will still be known as a Ravens.

Baltimore fans refer to Johnny Unitas as the best Baltimore football player ever, but Unitas retired as San Diego Charger. Players leave teams all the time and Ravens fans need to look no further then Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens after years with one previous franchise.

Those players went where the money is but are still “known” as a Bronco and Steeler respectively. Lewis in no way should offer the Ravens a hometown discount and fans should not feel slighted that he has not.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Emmit Smith, Bruce Smith are all hall of fame players who spent most whole career with one team but played for a different team late in their career. These players are still icons in the cities they have played the most amount of years in and Ray Lewis should be viewed the same if he returns to Baltimore.

Art Modell brought football back to Baltimore, but Ray Lewis has taken it to the level it is today. Lewis has brought a championship to this city, has almost single handily made it one of the most respected NFL organizations and has even almost made fans forget 1982 when the Colts left.

So shouldn’t fans stay behind Lewis for bringing all of this back to a city that clamoring for it for 14 years?

Season tickets range anywhere from $2,000 to 10,000 dollars and fans gladly play this to be entertained. For 14 years Ravens fans have been spending their paychecks to see one man- Ray Lewis. If his actions during free agency have made you sour on him, then do us all a favor and don’t pay to see him play.

For those of us who will remain behind when he returns to Baltimore to play out the rest of his career, we will thank him for everything he has done.

Eight or nine years from now on that warm August night in Canton Ohio, Ravens fans will convene in their number “52” jersey and watch “their own” Ray Lewis get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and nobody will remember what happened in the off-season in 2009.

So I ask you fellow Ravens fans, forget about what he said or did, welcome him back and cherish the fact that you will get to watch one of the greatest players in NFL history. One who has brought notoriety and football to a city that was without it for some many years.


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