Super Bowl: Ray Lewis is Ray Lewis — deal with it

I have said it before and I will say it again. I know that, as a rule, GetReligion readers care very little about what happens in the world of sports.

Nevertheless, some of you may have heard that there is a rather big football game being played tonight in New Orleans, with the Baltimore Ravens squaring off against the San Francisco 49ers. It’s in all the newspapers.

Some readers may also have heard that a very famous, sure first-ballot Hall of Fame linebacker named Ray Lewis is — after 17 remarkable years — playing his last game for the Ravens.

Now, whether one considers Lewis a kind of urban saint or a man who, literally, got away with being an accessory to murder, this big man is a major figure in American sports. There is no way around this. Click here for a GetReligion post containing all of the basics.

With the Super Bowl looming, ESPN.com summed this all up the other day:

Do you believe in Ray Lewis? Do you embrace the eye black, smeared down both of his cheeks, occasionally mixed with tears? Does your heart pump faster when he dances, feet sliding, biceps bulging? Do you nod and say, “Amen” when he speaks? Do you have your name in his cellphone? There are hundreds in the NFL who do, my friend — rookies, Ravens and even the poor soul he just flattened on the 20-yard line. “I love you,” Ray will tell some of them. And they love him, too. …

Do you see it in his eyes, his passion? Maybe you roll your eyes because Lewis is doing another news conference in designer sunglasses when it’s dark outside. But do you believe? That villains can become heroes? Do you buy into what he’s selling? It’s simple, really. Either you do or you don’t; you’re in or you’re out. … Do you believe in Ray Lewis? Do you believe that a man should be judged at his very worst or his very best?

Now, I know a lot about the sins in Lewis’ past and, in posts here, I have tried to deal with the press coverage of the man’s fiery, if at times vague, faith. After reading a week or two of the “last ride” coverage, I think it is rather obvious that a significant number of reporters simply want the man to shut up — especially about God.

Forget the last pre-game dance. Many are dreading the last post-game sermon.

Well, I want to urge GetReligion readers to pay close attention to the post-game sermon. In particular, I want folks to see whether Lewis is outspoken about the blessings of God if the Ravens win and silent on the blessings of God if they lose.

Personally, I want the Ravens to win, but I rather expect the ’49ers to win (with the key being whoever runs the ball most effectively). So I think we will have a chance to hear Lewis deal with defeat.

Listen carefully. While it often sounds like Lewis thinks God is on his side, what he actually keeps saying is that God has a message for believers — whether they win or lose. Lewis almost always say that God’s will and purpose cannot be defeated, no matter what happens on the football field. In other words, Lewis believes that a life of faith is more important than the final score on the scoreboard.

Will this be clear in the coverage? Let’s pay close attention.

Also, watch for the interactions between Lewis and other players post-game — players on both teams. I think what you will see is that, beyond football respect, there will be other ties that bind on display.

This section of the ESPN report rang true:

Ray Lewis is a friend. The contact list on his cellphone is loaded with football names, big and small, teammates and rivals. …

Here’s what Ravens center Matt Birk knows: That four years ago, he arrived in Baltimore from Minnesota, and wasn’t sure if Lewis would know who he was. Lewis passed by Birk when he was weighing in, said hello and congratulations, and it was great to have him there. That in the NFL, there’s something called an “old-guy day,” when veterans with creakier bones can skip a practice, and Lewis, in Birk’s four years in Baltimore, has never taken one.

“I have a problem with trying to judge what’s in somebody’s heart,” Birk says. “I mean, I get it. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. It’s kind of the same thing with like a Tim Tebow. Whatever you do, there’s going to be people who don’t like you or you rub the wrong way for whatever reason. That’s OK. I’m not going to speak for Ray, but when you’re in the public eye, you just have to be true to yourself and don’t worry about what others think.

“The guy plays his heart out. Every single Sunday.”

Then again, Birk is — well — Matt Birk. He’s one of those believer guys himself, of the Catholic kind. He is biased.

Anyway, enjoy the game. Then pay close attention to the coverage of the Godtalk. Let us know, in the comments pages, what you see and hear. URLs will be much appreciated.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Brian Donato

    Just another ignorant lazy writer questioning Ray Lewis’ character / faith … All you had to do was look at how he walked off when the Ravens lost last year to know he believes in God’s will win or lose

  • agricola

    Count me among the non-interested. Who is ‘Ray Lewis’? In context, I must suppose he plays football.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    Dunno, tmatt — I’m interested in sports and in the way sports media are as poor at covering its religious angles as are their non-sports colleagues, but I’m afraid I really don’t have much interest in how it’s going to cover Lewis and his religious expressions. Partly from low expectations and partly from low interest in Lewis, I guess. So even though this will be listed as a “comment,” I’m afraid it’s more of a shrug — sorry.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    I did not switch over to CBS Sports for the extended post-game coverage. However, I did watch most of the pre-game coverage and there was a long shot of Lewis leading his team in an extended chant of “No weapon formed against us shall prosper.” I was pretty sure that was a paraphrase of a Bible verse, and sure enough its Isaiah 54:17. None of the commentators bothered to explain that.
    This morning the sports commentator on NPR said something about Lewis saying that he laid hands on Jacoby Jones in prayer right before Jones had his kick-off return for a touch done to open the third quarter.
    I understand the debate over Lewis, and why many people believe he got away with murder — although the justice system had its shot at him and he got what the courts approved. What bothers me in the coverage is that the idea of redemption is seldom dealt with. Those who believe he got off the hook too easily simply paint him as a fraud, without discussing the possibility that he repented and turned his life around. Its okay to view that claim with skepticism, but it should be viewed, not ignored.

  • Dan Crawford

    Did anyone catch Lewis’ interview with Shannon Sharpe yesterday? Any thoughts about the theology he expressed? Any thoughts about something else in Lewis’ story -the multiple children with several women- and how that fits into his theology?

    Am I reading in this column’s the suggestion that Ray Lewis is questioned only because he is a “believer” of sorts?

  • tmatt

    DAN:

    I would love to see Ray asked about all of those subjects. Clearly you are not very familiar with what has been written about Lewis coverage here at GR.


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