with his charitable endeavors…not because people needed to know what he was doing…but more to let people out there know Ray was there for them if they needed him.
I’ve never had any REAL personal dealings with Ray Lewis.
I’ve interviewed him a couple of times. I’ve talked to him at his locker after games. But I’ve never had a glass of wine with him.
But I don’t need to KNOW Ray Lewis to know what I’ve seen.
I’ve seen a guy who could have folded shop in 2000. I’ve seen a guy who could have lied to everyone when he said, “Don’t worry, this is going to be a one-time thing”. I’ve seen a guy who was GROSSLY misjudged by the media and the fans in the months following the Atlanta incident. I’ve seen a guy who turned out different than everyone thought he would.
Trust me on this one: Back in 2000, a lot of people bet against Ray Lewis. Media members across the country wrote the Ray Lewis career-over piece and forwarded it to their editor with great pride, beaming at the fact that they were one of the first ones to step up and pronounce Lewis yesterday’s news. Fans in cities all over America, as is routinely the case when a black athlete gets in trouble, reveled in the Lewis murder saga. Those were the people who boasted “our justice system will take care of him” and then when the pieces were put together and that system determined Lewis WASN’T involved with the actual crime of murder, they bellyached about Ray getting special treatment and stiff-arming the government with a lucky plea bargain.
Never mind that no real evidence — not even close to real evidence — was ever produced in the case that could link Ray to the crime…some people just hate to see justice served when it’s not served cold.
So when Ray walked out of jail in the summer of 2000 and his role in the whole thing was reduced to what it actually was…that of an eye-witness of sorts who failed to give truthful testimony, plenty of people — media and fans alike — proclaimed that Ray wouldn’t stay free very long.
A lot of people assumed Lewis would someday make another mistake that would lead him to prison once again.
A lot of people bet against Ray Lewis.
A lot of people were wrong.
I know this: Ray Lewis spent just about 10 years proving his good word to people.
Maybe it didn’t have to take that long, but overcoming the label of someone who was involved in a murder (double) takes a while.
Ray Lewis woke up every single morning in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, so far, and said to himself, “I have another day to carry through on my promise to people that I would not only rebound, personally, from my mistake in Atlanta, but that I would go out of my way to assist my community in whatever way I can.”
The Ray Lewis story as I see it isn’t all about football. There are plenty of sub-stories and plot twists to Ray’s career in Baltimore. There are rumors about the role he played – possibly – in Brian Billick’s dismissal. There was the “lost season” of 2005 when he suffered a week #6 injury that many – including me, honestly – tabbed as “mysterious” in nature. I’ve been critical of him at times in the past for sneaking out of the locker room after losses and not facing the media, but in complete fairness to him, he’s not done much of that over the last three seasons (since Harbaugh arrived…coincidence?). His contract saga of 2009 was a pretty poor display of negotiating, even though he wound up getting a reasonably fair deal for a player in the October of his career. And the ONLY criticism I’ve heard of Ray from several of his teammates over the years has been his propensity for “preaching” to them about religion and God. Ray Lewis the football player has had his fair share of bumps, hurdles and obstacles. His career in Baltimore hasn’t been without controversy, critics and disappointment. But this much is for sure: The good about Ray Lewis has (and always will) far, far, far, far outweighed the bad.
But I decided not to write about Ray Lewis the football player.
I wrote about Ray Lewis the man.
And his rebound from the situation in Atlanta is, to me, a far more compelling story than any tackle he makes or any games he helps the team win.
Ray Lewis, the man, has made Baltimore a better place for a lot of people. Just like he said he would do.
We owe him thanks for that.
As for the people who bet against him? They know who they are and they know they ended up being wrong.
Since 1996, Ray Lewis has been proving people wrong.
I’m sure glad he did it all in Baltimore.