It was the epitome of hypocrisy. Before Sunday’s NFL playoff game between the Colts and the Ravens in Baltimore, there it was on national TV for the world to see: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hugging soon to retire Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
Goodell, the czar of good behavior.
Lewis, the great linebacker who should have spent the last decade in prison, not terrorizing NFL ball-carriers.
Lewis’ greatness as a player is not in question. Some label him the greatest middle linebacker in NFL history. I don’t go that far, but he is one of the greatest as his position.
Lewis’ career should have ended after the 1999 season; after he was present at the scene of a double murder and then lied to police and destroyed evidence during Super Bowl XXXIV week in Atlanta. Somehow he received what amounted to a slap on the wrist for his involvement – from both the law and the NFL. (His only conviction was a misdemeanor for obstruction of justice. He was fined but not suspended by then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.)
Not only that, he soon became one of the most hyped players in the NFL, hyped as much for his colorful antics as his stellar play.
Goodell has spent much of his career as NFL commissioner trying to clean up the league’s image. He has cracked down on players’ bad off-the-field behavior, issuing fines and suspensions like never before. I applaud him for what he has often called protecting the brand. So has the public.
His message has been crystal clear: The NFL will not tolerate players who get involved with drugs; players who are arrested for DUIs, spousal abuse and breaking gun laws; who embarrass the NFL in any way.
And yet Goodell and the NFL, as well as most fans and media, celebrate Lewis, whose off-the-field “issue” trumps all others.
Lewis, for his part, has made the most of his second chance both on and off the field. He claims to be a devout Christian and a devoted father. He has been a man of charity above and beyond the norm. I don’t question his sincerity.
And I believe in second chances. But saying I’m sorry and being a good role model doesn’t wash away the death of two men. It isn’t like going to rehab and cleaning up a drug or alcohol problem. For those who defend Lewis because he was not convicted of a felony, I have one brief reply: O.J. Simpson.
So pardon me if I don’t join this celebration of Lewis’ great career; if I don’t embarrassingly gush about him being a great leader and role model.
To forgive is one thing. To place him on a pedestal as a player and man is hypocrisy at its worst.
Return to: Lamm at Large Blog