Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Ray Lewis and the Complexities of Being his Fan

I enjoyed watching the Super Bowl in an old school way this past Sunday night.  I turned off my phone.  I turned off my computer.  I stashed my iPad away so Twitter and Facebook were not accessed.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to watch an intense game.  I could allow my passion for this game to overflow, but avoid comments and posts to push me in a negative way.

Bernie Kosar at The U
For those uninitiated with me, I am a lifelong Denver Broncos fan.  For some odd reason, I also chose the University of Miami as my favorite college football team when I was young.  It could have been my rebellious nature that led me to them.  It could be that my Dad also joked that I threw a football like Bernie Kosar, a UM alum.  Whatever the reason was, I’ve been cheering for them as long as I can remember.

The Super Bowl featured two all-time great from The U; Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.  I was emotionally invested in a big way during the game.  We all know it was Ray’s “last ride”, but also important to me, this was Reed’s first chance at a championship in the pros.  He is one of the greatest players I have ever seen play and thought he deserved the recognition as a Super Bowl champion.  While trying to enjoy the powerful NFL Network interview with Ed Reed, I made the mistake of turning my social media on.  I could not believe the hate and ignorance that filled the landscape.

Ed Reed with the trophy
The comments that pored over through Twitter and Facebook were focused on the murder trial of Ray Lewis from January of 2000.  I expected that to be brought up again by lazy media members who wanted to rehash the story during the two weeks leading up to the game.  I expected a few individuals to chime in with their tasteless jokes, as the internet is a haven for classless comments.

I didn’t expect some of those to be friends of mine, people I know well.  People I have known for years that have never said a word about Ray Lewis to me, despite them knowing how big of a fan I am, started chirping the second the Ravens made the Super Bowl.  I would post something on Facebook, and moments later, would be hit with comments that were not acceptable or welcomed on my page.  One comment went so far as to say, “How easily we forget…”

Ray Lewis in court in 2000
While it is not as malicious of a comment as others, I sincerely did not appreciate the implication that as a Ray Lewis fan for 20 years, I have no memory of this turning point in Lewis’ life.  You can’t be a fan of him without constantly defending him.  It didn’t matter that the majority of people involved with the case knew that the prosecution was overreaching in charging Lewis.  It didn’t matter that the prosecution didn’t have a leg to stand on.  Once an accusation like this is out there, it’s stuck like a scarlet letter and nothing can remove it.  For some reason, though, the hate for Ray Lewis grows while others accused of a crime dissipates over time.

Kobe Bryant leaving a Colorado
courtroom in 2004
There are some that still hate Kobe Bryant and believe he raped a girl in Eagle, Colorado.  Although, the moment he won another championship, those voices seemed to quiet a bit.  The attacks after that on Bryant came more at his on-court play than anything off the court.  Lewis’, however, seems to be the complete opposite.  The voices get louder and angrier.  I have a hard time grasping this.  The Bryant case had actual evidence.  The Bryant case did not crumble.  It became more “he said, she said”.  Yet in Lewis’ case, despite the case against him being as flimsy as a wet piece of paper, the public has branded him as a murderer.  He can’t escape it no matter what, and neither can his staunchest supporters.

I’m not going to sit here and debate the case.  You have your mind made up one way or the other by now.  I just wish we could all concede the following facts when discussing the murders:

- No one reading this was in the Atlanta nightclub the night of the murders.

- No one reading this was in the limousine as it left the scene.

- No one reading this was in the hotel rooms of anyone accused of the crime.

- No one reading this was in the courtroom.

- No one reading this has any physical or DNA evidence linking Ray Lewis to the murder.

- If the prosecution actually had something, they would not have presented him with a misdemeanor plea deal.

I know that this is not a perfect world and that some will never concede anything, but the above is all true.  Love him or hate him, none of us really know.

I understand Schadenfreude.  Taking in joy in the shortcomings of others is natural as a sports fan.  I don’t understand trying to tear someone down during a tremendous moment in their life.  I’d like to just chalk it up to jealousy, but there seems to be something much deeper here.  It’s a depth I don’t think any of us are comfortable going to because it requires us to look within ourselves and expose our biases.  It’s not something that can be wrapped up neatly in a blog.  It’s up to you, the reader, to take a moment of introspection and find why this hatred festers.

It’s great that everyone has a voice, and social media has allowed us to use it to the fullest.  Sift through the poor grammar and horrible spelling and you can stumble across some great minds putting thought-provoking ideas out into the world.  The flip side is that everyone has a voice, and that allows for hate-filled speech to ring out through the world.  We live in a world where it is too easy to throw stones, despite the fact that we all live in glass houses.  No one walking this planet is perfect and we’ve all made mistakes.  Ray Lewis firmly believes that only God can judge him, which is a belief I also share.  Who are any of us to cast judgment and hate towards someone without having evidence to support the claim?

So what is it about Ray Lewis that keeps the hatred alive?  Is it the murder accusation?  Is it his success that sparks jealousy?  Is it racially based?  Is it his outward religious beliefs?  We’re never going to know the answers to these questions because he means something different to everyone.

I know two things, though.  I will forever be a fan of his and I will forever have to defend that.

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