Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rooting for Ray Lewis and All That It Means

If you're looking for an opinion piece trashing Ray Lewis, this isn't it. Yes, I've chosen familiar courtroom jumpsuit shots of both Lewis and another football star I've been thinking about of late, but be patient: You may be disappointed if you're ready to cheer, or vice versa.
Amid the Facebook chatter recently, one of my friends devoted her status update to her favorite remaining team in the NFL playoffs, stating, simply, "Ravens!!!!!" There were a vast variety responses, from both sides, but there was one in particular that started me thinking (and led me down the path back to 1994, and watching that crazy, slow-speed chase while the Knicks played in the NBA playoffs). The post read, "Let's see if the murderer can get himself another Super Bowl ring," or something to that effect.
I found myself remembering October 3, 1995, the day the long, drawn-out, sometimes dramatic ("If it doesn't fit you must acquit,") sometimes mundane ("Yes, I'm sure it was between 9 and 10 that I heard the dog barking, because I was watching 'L.A. Law,' which comes on at 9...") murder trial of O.J. Simpson finally came to a close. A large chunk of our small high school on Chambers Street had gathered around the TV monitors we kept on rolling carts with VCRs in the back of our shabby computer room. I'll never forget the response: Our predominantly white teaching staff let out a collective sound of disbelief, like a muddled "what," almost in unison. The students, and our one African-American teacher, cheered. They looked elated.
I think my reaction fell somewhere in between. The preponderance of evidence appeared to suggest that O.J. was guilty of brutally murdering his wife and her friend. But the justice system mandates a jury can only find you guilty if the evidence proves your guilt "beyond a shadow of a doubt." I reasoned that the defense had done their job by establishing doubt, and that the jury had done what the judge had instructed them to do. Yes, this was a tragedy, but like it or not, the man was not guilty.
I looked around the room and considered the emotions. For the white teachers, I wondered whether in Nicole Brown, they saw a sister, or a cousin, or a bit of themselves? And I imagined the relief and elation, as the rest of the viewers in the room, the black and Latino students and their one black teacher, thought, "Oh thank God. We are spared another of our men being subjected to the unending 'perp walks' that seem at times to be our collective pennance for some wrong we're not aware of ever having committed."
Of course, the details of Ray Lewis's case are much less dramatic. There's the Missing White Suit, and not much else. (Although some point to Lewis paying out a large settlement to one of the victim's children as an admission of guilt somehow.) Again, he was found not guilty.
I root for him because he is so exciting to watch on the football field. However, like many other professional athletes these days, Ray Lewis's Hero Status is in serious question.


  1. as long as the public "celebrates" them they remain "heroes". like Michael Vick who was, in fact, found guilty. in a "gun-fetish" culture romanticizing "the outlaw" is just so easy.