I could not have more respect and admiration for Ravens LB Ray Lewis the football player. He's the greatest middle linebacker I have ever had the privilege of watching. Few players in NFL history have left a bigger mark on the game than this Super Bowl champion and sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer.
In his prime, he was the complete package: punishing hitter, ran like a deer, an inspiring leader and a football IQ that coaches dream of — the guy had it all.
I truly wish I could say the same for Lewis off the field. We all know about his transgressions back in 2000, when he avoided a murder charge by pleading guilty to an obstruction of justice charge for his role in a stabbing outside an Atlanta nightclub. To be fair, Lewis has kept his nose clean since that incident, becoming one of the leading faces of the NFL.
Lewis had stayed mostly on the sideline of the NFL labor strife until this past weekend when he agreed to an interview with ESPN's Sal Paolantonio.
The interview started off harmlessly, with Lewis hitting on a number of topics, including the connection he feels when working with underprivileged children; the necessity for players and owners to put aside their pride and egos for a new labor agreement to be reached, and the Ravens being oh-so-close to returning to the Super Bowl after three consecutive postseason trips.
But the interview took a puzzling and uncomfortable turn when Lewis shared his thoughts on the potential impact of games being missed because of the lockout.
"Do this research. If we don't have a season — watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up, if you take away our game," Lewis told Paolantonio.
"There's too many people that live through us, people live through us," he said. "Yeah, walk in the streets, the way I walk the streets, and I'm not talking about the people you see all the time."
I know I'm not the only one who was squirming in his seat when Lewis assumed that fans, as well as people whose livelihoods are tied to the NFL, live by the same moral guidelines that he does.
Maybe Lewis should do the research before he opens his mouth. He had no statistics to back up his assumption. He had no tangible proof whatsoever of an increase in crime being a direct result of a work stoppage. No, Lewis just made a sweeping statement that was sure to offend others as it did me.
His next remark only further proved how disconnected from reality he truly is.
When pressed by Paolantonio on why he thought crime would go up, Lewis said, "There's nothing else to do, Sal."
And therein lies a big reason why the two sides have gotten themselves into this mess to begin with. Despite saying just moments earlier that egos need to be checked at the door to reach a new labor agreement, Lewis' massive ego reared its ugly head.
There are an infinite number of harmless and legal ways to spend a Sunday other than watching NFL action. Are there things I would rather be doing? Absolutely not; that is why I am in the profession I'm in. But for Lewis to assume that a game — and that is all it is — is the most important thing in people's lives, and without it people will resort to criminal activity, is utter ignorance and narrow-mindedness.
Life will, in fact, go on — with or without football. The tens of thousands of individuals who rely on the game to support themselves and their families will find other honorable ways to do so. It won't be easy, and it sure as hell won't be by choice, but this misconception that a game is the end-all, be-all is irresponsible and endangers the overall well-being of the sport. Lewis is not the only one who is guilty of this. The sooner players and owners realize that folks are not going to sit around and wait forever for a resolution to an argument most could never relate to in the first place, the better.
All this interview really tells us about Lewis is that he's not the brightest guy, nor does he have any business representing the players during this lockout. Paolantonio asks Lewis later in the interview when he plans to get involved in the negotiations, to which Lewis responds, "Oh … the time coming."
Do us a favor, Ray: instead of getting involved and making matters worse than they already are, stay out of it.