Niagara Gazette

February 2, 2013

PARRINO: Deciphering the Ray Lewis Legacy

By Matt Parrino
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette —

When Ray Lewis retires, which person will be remembered?

The man that was charged with murder in 2000, or the man that's become the face of America's game? 

I almost forgot about that first person before the Baltimore Ravens recent run to the Super Bowl. It's funny how that can happen, isn't it? I was too busy marveling at the person, or should I say player, that he had become.

I think recent stories show all of us how easy it is to let what we see on the field mask the realities off it.

Lance Armstrong turned out to be a liar and a cheater after the majority of the public defended him for the better part of a decade, even though most of the evidence was right there in front of us. I mean, seven Tour de France championships, in a row, after overcoming testicular cancer — that's about as realistic as Manti Te'o not knowing that he was dating a make believe girlfriend for over two years.

Most sports fans — and I'm not talking about those who watch a few games or flip on the tube when the Super Bowl is on — don't want to mix sports with real life. That's why we overlook so much. That's why we're so eager to give second chances.

A big part of America gave Lewis — who was acquitted of the murder charge and only found guilty of obstruction of justice — a second chance and, to his credit, he's done the most with it. He reinvented himself and will now retire as the benchmark of work ethic, a guy thousands of young players will try and model their game after.

If he killed those young men at that nightclub outside of Atlanta he should be behind bars — there is no way around it. Whether or not he did, his involvement should forever be a cross he has to bear.

Two weeks ago, I found myself defending him because of the perception I have of the person he has become and the way he took advantage of his second chance. But then I stopped and really thought about it. 

We don't know who these people really are and all we have to go on is what they'll tell us. Lewis refuses to talk about the events of that day, nor could I find anything ever written about him reaching out to the family of the victims to share his, at the very least, condolences. 

When you turn on the video game Madden 2013, Lewis appears on screen to deliver an inspirational 90-second vignette that captures the spirit of a generation and further entrenches him as the father figure of modern football.

But the real Lewis is a mystery — someone we'll never know, camouflaged by warmup dances, pre-game speeches and religious blabber — as if some higher power decided to interject on Lewis' behalf.

Somewhere inside I'll always respect what Lewis has done on the field, there is no contesting his greatness within goal lines. But his lack of character off the field, even if only for one night, will always cast a larger shadow.

Find Tonawanda News sports editor Matt Parrino on Twitter @MattParrino.