ith the Super Bowl officially in the books and Baltimoreans celebrating the embattled city’s glorious moment in the limelight, it’s finally time to say goodbye to Ray Lewis. Long considered one of the premier defensive players in the NFL and a transcendent leadership figure in the locker-room – not to mention one of the more riveting motivational speakers around – Lewis is going out on the highest of highs and leaving the game of football for good. As far as the NFL is concerned, he’s a legend of the highest order; very, very few defensive players can realistically claim to be one of football’s most recognizable faces (and one of the most well-known in the sporting profession), rivaling pompous quarterbacks and enigmatic receivers alike.
Hardnosed hard-hitter. Game-changing inside linebacker. Leader of grown men. Ray Lewis is the quintessential American football player, and his legendary on-the-field performances will be sorely missed by football fans nationwide. There was nothing like watching Ray Lewis direct his troops in the heat of battle and fluster opposing signal callers.
Good, I got the obligatory “preface your argument with some praise” part out of the way.
With Ray Lewis now out of the picture (unless, of course, he gets some big-time studio analyst position in the near future), I can’t pretend that I’m going to be incredibly distraught. The routine displays of emotional exuberance were beginning to annoy me. His inspirational capabilities – already the stuff of legend – were becoming drawn-out, overdone, and downright corny. Yes, Lewis is uncanny in his ability to connect with his teammates, invoke an us-against-the-world mindset, and motivate them to pursue one common goal – which they achieved this season in impressive fashion. But at some point, enough is enough. When the same stuff gets put on repeat, I have to see something new and refreshing. Lewis wears his emotions, as well as his Christian faith, on his massive sleeve, and the act was starting to run dry with me. Something needed to change, so I’m relieved that he’s receding from our memories and fading into the obscurity that coincides with retirement.
I get it, but enough is enough. Ray Lewis cries a lot, and cries some more. Ray Lewis is a God-fearing man, and he loves letting you know about it. Ray Lewis is the epicenter of the huddle. Ray Lewis speaks straight from the heart, something that most athletes can’t quite accomplish. Ray Lewis takes himself really, really seriously. Ray Lewis. Ray Lewis. Getting tired of this? Well, I feel precisely the same way when cameramen flock to him, reporters scrap to interview him, and Sportscenter comes out with those daily “Ray Lewis showing his emotion and willing the Ravens to victory” montages that seem to drag on.
Displays of emotion represent arguably the most important part of sports, and we condemn athletes who are too happy-go-lucky, too laidback, and too levelheaded for our liking. “They don’t care enough,” we say. Winning isn’t that important to them. Just think a lazy-eyed Tracy McGrady or the goofy Dwight Howard or Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the international stage. The list goes on and on. But, nobody in his or her right mind would argue that Ray Lewis’ name should be included. Competitiveness isn’t the problem here. Neither is his spirituality. I’m not even talking about the controversial murder trial in 2000, even though there are still lines of unsatisfied people who want it included in the dissection of Ray Lewis, the man.
The problem lies in the repetitiveness of the “let’s admire Ray Lewis” mantra. It’s everywhere! Maybe I’m a little bit biased. I’m a passionate New England Patriots fan, so I had to witness the devastating AFC Championship Game that took place a couple of weeks back – my hometown team got thrashed by the eventual Super Bowl winner, resulting in another disappointing year for a team blessed (or cursed) with sky-high expectations every preseason. Dreams were ruined and tears were shed. I’m not afraid to admit it. And, the ruthless Ray Lewis was the chief culprit. He and his defensive brethren proved to be the downfall of an overwhelmed Tom Brady, whose legacy unfortunately takes a significant hit with every postseason setback.
Adding insult to injury, the emotional fireball that is Ray Lewis was on full display that miserable Sunday night. He cried, he screamed, he danced, he taunted, he rejoiced. And, the cameras caught all of it. In historic Massachusetts. So, maybe, I’m a little bit too biased. But with the conclusion of this NFL season, I’m the one rejoicing. I no longer have to sit back and watch the same old broken record. Crying, leading, inspiring. Let’s be grateful for its uniqueness, and then move on. There are other topics to cover, other players to admire, and other games to watch. Ray Lewis isn’t the be-all and end-all of professional sports, so we mustn’t be carried away – emotional outbursts are great, but seeing too many of them isn’t. Small doses of the crying and Psalm 91 are perfectly acceptable; this allows you to fully appreciate the Lewis legend, without the extra add-ons and superfluous repetition. Would I attend one of his motivational speeches? Yes. But I can’t say that I’m exactly mourning the retirement of Ray Lewis. Enough is enough.