I was out having a beer with my buddy Sean a few nights ago at CVP in Towson and overheard a conversation about Ray Lewis. I heard these three knuckle-heads loudly announcing their disdain for our middle linebacker and field general. As I turned around, I expected to see three Steelers fans slugging that god-awful Iron City brew. To my surprise, one guy wore a Ravens hat, another donned a purple hoodie, and the other wore a Chris McAlister jersey. I then chuckled at the sheer irony of wearing a McAlister jersey while passing judgment on other people’s personal choices.
Ever since I can remember, there has been this underground society of Baltimorians who, for whatever reason, have a strong dislike for #52.
I talked to several friends and media members about this, and surprisingly, most of the people I talked to said “yeah, you can use my quote but I don’t want to be named in your blog.” I think that really shows the sensitivity of this issue, especially in this current era of political correctness, where initially harmless comments can be flipped on their ear in a heartbeat.
So why do some people in this town hate Ray Lewis?
-”Not speaking for me personally, but I think it’s a race issue for some people.”
-“The dancing and all of the extracurricular crap.”
-“The chest-thumping Christianity aspect of his personality.”
-“He’s a criminal. He got away with murder”
Whoa, whoa, whoa…slow down.
I can’t believe that ugly incident in Atlanta in 1999 is still being held over Lewis’ head. People, especially young people with lots of money, make mistakes – that will never change. Just look at all of the problems other NFL players have had since that incident: they blow tons of money on a poker game, or fund a dog fighting ring, or get caught up in drugs, or get drunk and punch bodyguards in the bathroom. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest mistake Ray Lewis made was choosing to associate himself with some bad people. And in America, the land of second chances, it’s amazing how some people just cannot let things go. The bottom line is, the only people who really know what happened that night were the people who were there. Whatever Ray did or didn’t do, that’s between him and a higher power.
Ray is frequently described as a bible-thumping Christian, which is only mildly annoying at the absolute most. Talking about God 90 times in a football interview is a little wearing on the eardrum, but is that really a bad thing or a reason to hate him? I don’t think so. What’s wrong with living your life with a high level of morality? Or using Jesus, Buddah, Allah, or Tony the Tiger as motivation to turn your life around? I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The pre-game dancing and the celebrating after allowing a 4 yard run? Again, mildly annoying at best. Not a reason to hate some who has done so much for the city of Baltimore. Lewis is probably the most passionate football player in the NFL, and that passion leaks out of every pore in his body on game day. I’ve been on the sideline with him and I swear to Tony the Tiger you can almost smell it.
The racism issue? Well…some people are stuck in their ways. No sense in arguing with an idiot because…well, you all know how that goes.
Forget all of the on-field aspects of this issue. We all know what Ray has done and what he continually brings to the table week after week and I won’t insult your intelligence by re-hashing his accomplishments. As a football player, he is simply amazing. Just look at the season he’s having this year.
I think all of his charity work and what he does for Baltimore is unfairly overlooked. Through the Ray Lewis 52 Foundation, Lewis raises money and lends personal support for disadvantaged youth. The incredible sums of money he donates (trust me…it’s A LOT) go unpublicized because HE chooses to not publish them. That’s extremely commendable, especially considering how easy it is to find how much money other players donate to certain organizations. All it takes is a simple Google search.
This November, Ray will do what he’s done for several years in this city and distribute Thanksgiving turkeys and other food to the less fortunate. In December, he’ll take kids Christmas shopping. In February, he’ll lead a fitness camp for children. This summer, he’ll continue doing Ray’s Summer Days, which have been extremely effective in raising money for his foundation. Ray Lewis has been an integral cog in the civic wheel of Baltimore, and if he choses to continue to embrace this city once he retires, he will become just as iconic as Johnny Unitas and Cal Ripken. Ray Lewis will always and forever be handcuffed to Baltimore, so I think it’s time ALL OF US embrace Ray for what he is–a great football player, philanthropist, and Baltimorian.