Lewis: Hero or Villain?

One year ago the National Football League was on top of the world. The Super Bowl was right around the corner and the Rams were the nation’s feel-good sports story. It was a rags-to-riches story with a God-fearing grocery clerk in the leading role. The NFL took every advantage and made Kurt Warner into the household idol that frankly he should be. At Super Bowl time in 2000 life was good for the NFL.

Today, the Super Bowl is right around the corner once again, but this year the NFL isn’t sitting so pretty. The Greatest Show on Earth, a title now synonymous with the Rams, has packed up its tent until next season and unfortunately for the NFL no grocery clerks are playing in this year’s Super Bowl.

There is no inspiring story that is Warner-esque. All the NFL has is Kerry Collins, a recovering alcoholic playing quarterback for the New York Giants and former murder suspect Ray Lewis at middle linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens.

Shortly after the 2000 Super Bowl Lewis was arrested as a suspect for the murder of two men on the night of the Super Bowl. Lewis was to stand trial for the murder of those two men. Lewis’ murder trial was the second in a series of three NFL related murders. Of course there was O.J. Simpson, then Lewis, then shortly after there was Carolina Panther Rae Carruth.

Lewis, unlike other NFL murder suspects Simpson and Carruth, did not flee the police by speeding away in his white Bronco or hiding in the trunk of his car two states away from where his arrest warrant was issued. No, Lewis stood tall with his chest pushed out as the police placed him in custody, what a role model.

Lewis stood trial for the murder of two men for about as long as it takes to say plea bargain. Then, he decided to plead guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor obstruction of justice, and in exchange for this he gave his testimony against his own two co-defendants. Lewis, who could have faced life in prison, was given a year of probation.

Today, Lewis is the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and captain of one of the best defenses in NFL history. What a difference a year makes. From murder suspect to plea bargainer to Defensive Player of the Year, Ray Lewis has done it all in the last year.

For this Super Bowl, the NFL is doing as little individual promotion as possible. This game is being kept to the two teams, the Giants and the Ravens. The Ravens have an anonymous offense and a dominant defense, but even this defense will generate minimal publicity. To promote their defense means that the NFL will be promoting Lewis, and the NFL will not take a publicity chance like that.

Unfortunately, this year’s Super Bowl isn’t a game of dreams or inspiration, but a game of redemption. Ray Lewis is looking for redemption, and the question is-does the public believe that Ray Lewis deserves redemption? Or was he just another guilty athlete with money?

No matter what the truth is, Ray Lewis is a tarnished piece of silver for the NFL. As bright as he might shine on the field, his off the field problems will never allow him to shine in the public eye. If Ray Lewis was in fact innocent, then a plea bargain was not needed, and his innocence should have been proven in a court of law.

Thus, for the 2001 Super Bowl the NFL has no inspiring stories. unless you want to be Johnny Cochran.