Thursday, January 17, 2013

Let's get real about Ray Lewis

Notes, quotes and anecdotes while waiting for Ray Lewis to be assumed bodily into heaven ...

I know that sounds snarky, especially to devout Catholics who commemorate Mary's assumption into her eternal reward with a holy day, but really? Can we stop treating Lewis -- Baltimore Ravens linebacker -- as if he patented a cure for cancer? Or even the common cold?

Ray Lewis is a football player ... and a pretty darned good one. Off what he's accomplished in the NFL, he absolutely belongs in the Football Hall of Fame as soon as he's eligible to be voted in.

Nobody can dispute that.

The issue I have is whether he should have been allowed to become a football immortal. Lord knows I don't condone dog fighting (I love dogs, and couldn't imagine hurting one), but Michael Vick served 21 months in prison -- spending much of what would be considered the prime of his NFL career -- for a crime that doesn't come close to the double homicide in which Lewis was implicated in 2000.

To refresh (or to educate): Lewis was in an Atlanta club after the 2000 Super Bowl (the one in which the St. Louis Rams beat Tennessee) and, upon exiting the establishment, members of his entourage got into a physical confrontation with another group of men. During the scuffle, two men -- both from the other entourage -- were stabbed to death.

Lewis was arrested and charged for the double murder, even though at the time most people (myself included) thought the purpose behind that was to lean on him to provide information on the people who actually did the killing. Ultimately, he copped to a misdemeanor of obstructing justice, admitting he gave false statements to police. The white suit he was wearing the night of the murders was never found. The two men charged in the murder were acquitted. And Lewis reached out-of-court monetary settlements with family members of both victims that prevented a civil suit going to trial.

I'd say Lewis got off pretty easily. This was all done in time for him to become the MVP of the 2001 Super Bowl when his Ravens beat the New York Giants (although it was Trent Dilfer, and not Lewis, who went to Disney World).

Vick goes to jail for 21 months ... Lewis becomes MVP of the Super Bowl. It's a good thing for Ray Lewis that Roger Goodell wasn't commissioner at the time or Lord knows what would have happened. But at any rate, the idea of him parading himself around as if he's some paragon of virtue is a little hard to take. At least Vick had the good sense to lay low after his ordeal ended.

And speaking of Vick, I remember the outrage and moral indignation over the very idea of him returning to pro football and collecting money after his transgressions ... even though he did his time. To date, there has never been a commensurate amount of outrage and moral indignation over Lewis' ascension into virtual sainthood.

This doesn't seem quite right. The Ravens may very well beat the New England Patriots Sunday (in fact, I think they will). But the idea of Lewis' last hurrah (he's announced his retirement) being played up as if he's Lou Gehrig and The Gipper all rolled into one is nauseating.


Got into a pretty intensive Facebook debate the other day of how much of a piece of scum Lance Armstrong is.

Those who say there are bigger pieces of scum certainly have a point. All Lance did was engage in a little doping en route to winning seven Tour de France bike races ... and then vehemently deny accusations that he did so in the most strident, obnoxious and self-righteous (not to mention self-serving) terms imaginable. He didn't kill or rape anyone ... and so far as anyone knows, he didn't bilk anyone out of their life savings or fleece clients out of investment money.

And ... being a cancer survivor himself, he did raise a lot of money for research into the disease.

So no, when you look at it that way, Armstrong is not the biggest piece of scum on the planet. But there's BIG ... and simply big.  And Lance is certainly a big enough piece of scum (small letters) to be considered impressive.

Let's put aside, for the moment, the notion that since everyone has a lie to tell at some point, that his lying about steroids is no worse than anyone else's. Au contraire. In his case, there are aspects of those denials that allow for special consideration. First, he didn't simply deny he took steroids. He so adamantly and stridently denied it to the point where he ruined the reputations of the people who accused him of it (and that's pretty hard to do, considering all those people were dirty too). He even threatened to sue some of them.

Then, there's this. When he'd been hit with enough flesh wounds (via speculation and consistently more specific accusations from official anti-doping agencies) to make him vulnerable, his contemporaries lined up to rat him out (including former teammates such as Tyler Hamilton). You have to be pretty hated to have that happen to you.

Third, overly pious denials are tough enough to believe when they're legitimate. I don't know what is the right way to deny something you've been falsely accused of, but smarmy piety isn't it. Even when you're telling the truth it comes off as contrived.

So imagine, then, what happens when all those pious, strident denials turn out to be gigantic lies. You don't have any credibility left to deny wetting the bed, let alone taking steroids.

Now add this to it all: Not only did Armstrong cede credibility for himself, he's pretty much blown it for everyone else similar situations. The next athlete accused of cheating -- even if it's not proven (as was the case with Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers) -- won't get a bit of sympathy in the court of public opinion.

Just to give you an example: How many people believe that Notre Dame's Manti Teo was punked by an internet spammer into believing that there was a secret love for him in cyberspace? I have a tough time believing it. It's much easier to believe that he contrived the whole leukemia thing to garner sympathy for himself (and, by extension, entice people to vote for him for the Heisman Trophy).

That, of course, is a horrible thought. But thanks to these overly pious denials (think, too, of Bill Clinton waving his finger say he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky") proving false, nobody believes his story. Or, at least, few people believe it. From hereon out, everyone is suspect. And it leaves legitimate athletes vulnerable to all sorts of accusations by jealous competitors.

That is the ultimate cost of what Lance Armstrong (and Roger Clemens too) has done.


The National Rifle Association's inclusion of President Obama's children into their anti-anti-gun crusade was -- as his spokespeople said -- repugnant and cowardly.

And one of the reasons it was so odious is that there is no anti-gun crusade. I've not heard one person in any position of responsibility argue for banning guns. Perhaps we want some accountability on the part of the chief lobbying group for the gun industry ... some indication that this gun violence is a serious enough issue for them to be a part of the solution (if there is one).

The NRA has not acquitted itself well. Instead, it has resorted to all sorts of the usual hysteria, and -- of course -- has dragged the Second Amendment into the fray.

You know, the Founding Fathers may have been very, very wise ... but I get the feeling they were also lawyers who tried to write an amendment that couldn't be parsed ...and failed miserably at it.

So now, it's a matter of "pick your word groupings" when it comes to interpreting the amendment. The pro-gun lobby (and that's really the wrong term to use, because it implies there's an official anti-gun lobby that has equal footing with the NRA) zeros in on the phrase that "the right to bear arms shall not be infringed." The other side -- however organized it is -- gets stuck on the word "militia," and also brings up the argument that "they were talking about muskets, for heaven's sake, not semiautomatic weapons)."

I think this is wrong. I think the authors of this amendment -- having endured all that they'd 'been through -- understood quite well that new, more deadly, weaponry was very likely to be produced long after they died.

But how about reading the whole amendment, instead of parsing it, or taking certain aspects of it out of context? Why not take the whole amendment as the complete sentence it is.

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed."

I ask: what part of the term "well regulated" is unclear? This, to me, means that Congress has every right to regulate the ownership, and use, of firearms, whether they're part of a militia group or any other group. It doesn't mean you can unilaterally ban them. It just means that as the governing body of the country, it has the power to tell you under what conditions you can own firearms and -- if certain weapons are abused enough -- to keep them out of the hands of civilians whose only purpose in having them is to cause violence.

All of this is just grist for the mill, because the Second Amendment has been interpreted by our current Supreme Court, and there is no vehicle to debate it, short of a national referendum to either abolish it or change its wording. And we have a better chance of seeing God.

And obviously, the solution goes deeper than just regulating guns, or, perhaps, banning certain types of weapons. The entire culture of violence certainly comes into play, as does our alarming lack of attention to the mentally ill.

But to shrug it off as someone else's problem? That, too, is repugnant and cowardly.


I find it ironic that four years ago, there was a national furor over the H1N1 virus that bordered on hysterical (yet the feared pandemic never really materialized), while this year's version of the flu/pneumonia bug came on in stealth (but has proven much more devastating than the Swine Flu).

Take from one who knows first hand. I left the gym after a 90-minute workout one afternoon, and by early evening, I was shaking like a leaf with a fever of 102. That's how fast this thing snuck up on me.

But, of course, it exits the body kicking and screaming.


 The new Terry Francona book about the unraveling of your Boston Red Stockings (appropriate word, no?) will be a must-read when it comes out. Only an arrogant ownership that badly misjudged the can-of-corn fly ball it sought to field could have messed things up this horribly.

Perhaps this is what John Lennon meant by "Instant Karma's gonna Get You." The Red Sox, as a brand, became as successful as they were between 2003 and 2008 because they had talented teams that created real drama when they went up against the No. 1 marketing beast in all of American professional sports: The New York Yankees.

And that's the only brand the Red Sox ever needed ... that, and Fenway Park. I don't know what any of these owners were thinking about "sexy rosters" and "soap-opera personalities." Win games. Challenge the Yankees. Play them in as many playoff series as you can get into ... and you won't have to woo NESN viewers.


I'm afraid it'll be Brother vs. Brother in this year's Super Bowl. I don't exactly like the idea of John and Jim Harbaugh going up against each other, but it would appear as the San Francisco 49ers have the team to beat the Atlanta Falcons on the road; and that the Ravens will ride Ray "Knight in Shining Armor" Lewis to an emotional victory Sunday against the Patriots ... also on the road.

In a way, it'll be a good thing. Surely there must be better things to do on a Sunday night than watch a Super Bowl against two teams I couldn't care less about.

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