(Originally published at http://blackworthy.com/ray-lewis-redemption-super-bowl/on Jan. 31, 2013)
If Ray Lewis were not about to play in the upcoming Super Bowl XLVII he may have silently slipped into retirement. However, it does not appear that Lewis does anything quietly. It may be a coincidence or biblical allusion but three Super Bowls play significant milestones in the public life of the man who will go down as one of the most fascinating and fundamentally sound football players to ever put on shoulder pads.
He entered the NFL in 1996 as the first ever player drafted by the then newly created franchise Baltimore Ravens as an energetic although supposedly undersized middle linebacker from the University of Miami. But soon, he was regarded as a top player who was feared for his ferocious hits and pass coverage ability.
Yet, it he was actions in the aftermath of Super Bowl XXXIV following his fourth year in the NFL that has made him a media magnet and been his cross to bear. In the host city of Atlanta, not as a player, but with friends enjoying the post-game partying at a night club, two men were killed by stabbing. Lewis was charged with double homicide for his participation in the violent attack. We may likely never know all of what happened that night but it’s thought by most that Lewis either participated in the fight but not the lethal knifing or “merely” provided an escape via his limo for his friends.
Ultimately, he pled guilty to obstruction of justice and testified against the two defendants he brought to the Super Bowl. The defendants argued it was self-defense and were acquitted while Lewis eventually settled civil law suits with the two victims’ families but was considered murderer walking.
On the verge of almost losing his personal liberties with a potential prison sentence and his career in one fell swoop, Lewis dedicated himself to be remembered for more than that. He began speaking about his Christian faith and one season later, he was sitting atop of the NFL mountaintop as the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV where his Ravens prevailed over the New York Giants.
Flash forward a dozen years later, the deaths of two men still haunt the victims’ family, the defendants and Lewis’ legacy. Following a miraculous win over the Denver Broncos, the Ravens dethroned the defending AFC champs New England Patriots in the conference championship game. In the wake of defeating the Patriots propelling the Ravens to the Super Bowl, the CBS television cameras zoned in on Lewis’ submissive prayer pose.
Many took offense at the apparent unadulterated media attention. However, Lewis, never known to be shy has entertained with his pre-game dance rituals and preached the gospel from the gridiron pulpit has a following of everyday people – almost deity-style with many in Baltimore – and superstars like Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.
When Lewis arose, he engaged the cameras one more time with scripture from Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.” With America’s aversion to mix sports and religion we seem to have created a debate of Lewis as the sports’ super saint versus the football felon who got a get-out-of-jail card.
Maybe CBS, also broadcasting this year’s Super Bowl, was eagerly capitalizing on the moment to set up the stage for a conquering hero, who announced this his 17th season would be his last, returning to a fateful Super Bowl. But if so, let’s be clear, CBS is agnostic as it surely realizes as many may tune into the game to see Lewis fail and propping him up welcomes the so called haters.
Of course, Lewis has not been perfect during his transformation from thug to theologian but I do think he has been sincere. But does it really matter what the public opinion is? The burden of deciding such issues rests elsewhere. However, what may be lost in the referendum on redemption is the message about how we should live and die. Using football as a metaphor for life, Lewis articulates how we all win and lose at some point but in the end it matters how we deal with each truth.