Ray Lewis is just a man

Ray Lewis is one of the greatest middle linebackers to ever play in the NFL, and he’s a certain hall of famer in five years. But he’s old, he’s lost several steps, and he’s especially vulnerable in coverage.

Ray Lewis is a man of faith, and he’s been a steady role model in the Baltimore community for over a decade. But a night in Atlanta which ended in the death of two men is still a significant blemish on his record, and despite all the good he’s done since, forgetting his involvement in that night is both impossible, and irresponsible.

Ray Lewis often speaks about remaining humble. But Ray Lewis is seen dancing before every game amid fire, and throwing dirt on himself. It’s a spectacle, because he’s a spectacle.

We’re now mercifully past mid week during Super Bowl week, and if you weren’t already aware, Lewis is a divisive figure. Some would like to forgive and forget, and not let an unsolved murder from 13 years ago still define a man’s legacy. Others can’t, which is why his antics and overall personality (the preaching, the on-field theatrics, the crying), have become infinitely unbearable.

Whichever group you belong to, let’s attempt to agree on something: he’s a man, and just a man, but often he’s now yet another example of the misguided god-like status we place on our athletes. He’s also a man who happens to be very good at football and specifically the act of tackling opposing players.

He does not, however, possess any sort of almight power. He’s entertaining because of his passionate speeches, and a decibel level that never drops below 59. But that often ceases to be fun when it’s laced with preaching too. Anything in abundance leads to over saturation, and therefore irritation.

That was the genesis for Amani Toomer’s comments regarding Lewis yesterday, and during a week when the Lewis worship is getting tiresome, he spoke the truth for many people.

From USA Today:

“It’s definitely all about him. Once a guy goes to the center of the field, goes into the victory formation on the last play of his last home game …” Toomer told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday in the Super Bowl XLVII Media Center, trailing off before completing that thought. ” I just don’t think the Giants or any organization I’ve ever been a part of, even growing up, would allow somebody to single themselves out like that.

“If you single yourself out after you make a play, that’s one thing. But to walk out on the field reminds me of the WWE, like The Rock coming out. You’re becoming a caricature of yourself. It’s exhausting. I don’t know why somebody would want that.”

Toomer, the former Giants receiver who’s now an analyst for NBC Sports, is of course referring to Lewis trotting onto the field during the Ravens’ opening-round win over the Indianapolis Colts, a game that was his last in Baltimore. He did his signature shuffle-to-pelvic-thrust dance, a move that Reggie Wayne called “disrespectful“.

He continued, also referencing that night in Atlanta.

“If you want to say you’re Mr. Religious and all of that, have a clean record. Don’t say all of that stuff if you know there’s stuff that might come back,” Toomer said. “Those are the things that, when I look at him, I just think hypocrisy.”

When Lewis was asked about his past on Media Day, he said no one present is qualified to question him on the matter, and he bobbed and weaved. That wasn’t surprising, as it falls in line with how he’s conducted himself for 13 years, saying little.

Toomer’s right, though. It would be easier for the rest of us to move past that night too if we weren’t constantly reminded of a righteous path he’s led. He’s acknowledged how much his life changed after the Atlanta incident, a transition that’s led him to become who he is today. Fair enough, and he’s fully entitled to that.

But during this week when every camera and every microphone is focused on each word he speaks, he can’t dictate his own image, and force us to only see the good, and disregard where his path to righteousness began.