NEW ORLEANS – The Ray Lewis Story, as told [often] by Ray Lewis, has generally been one long on redemption but light on remorse and even remembrance of the darkest night of his life.
The Baltimore Ravens linebacker will speak at length about his faith, about his relationship with God, about his altogether righteous and wonderful life with all its blessings. Yet he hardly acknowledges the night 13 years ago in Atlanta where a fight in the street left two men dead and Lewis eventually turning state's witness and avoiding a murder rap to plead guilty to obstruction of justice. He testified at the trial of two of his friends but neither was convicted.
For a man that embraces a very open and public existence to cling to a private moment of such a major incident is to some fans the proper way to move on from a tragedy, to others the flaunting of a criminal who is getting away with it, and, to the vast majority of everyone else, something in between.
Super Bowl XLVII media day came Tuesday and while Lewis held to his typical lines – much talk about God, little about what happened – he did open up, perhaps without knowing it, more than we've ever seen.
"Nobody here is really qualified to ask those questions," Lewis said, trying to deflect talk about the murders. "I just truly feel that this is God's time, and whatever His time is, you know, let it be his will. Don't try to please everybody with your words, try to make everybody's story [sounds] right.
"At this time, I would rather direct my questions in other places," Lewis continued. "Because I live with that every day. You maybe can take a break from it. I don't. I live with it every day of my life and I would rather not talk about it today."
I live with it everyday of my life.
That is at least an acknowledgement that he hasn't simply forgotten what the families of the two victims surely can't. Lewis may not realize it, but simply saying this much, simply noting that this still weighs on him, that he still remembers that terrible night isn't just something but something important.
America is the land of the second chance and few have embraced it like Ray Lewis. He was once an outcast. Through the years, and much self-promotion, he's been able to remind people why they liked him in the first place: He's a hellacious talent bound for the Hall of Fame and an unquestioned leader of fellow players who cling to his words, his actions and his inspiration.
He somehow rebuilt his brand to the point he again did major national commercials.
How did you manage that, Lewis was asked?
"I wake up [myself] every day," he said
Are you surprised you could pull it off?
"Next question," he said. "Please."
Maybe Lewis doesn't have an answer for this. Maybe he has something to hide when he tries to shy away from the topic. Or maybe he's just programmed to reject anything involving a negative in his life. He'd rather relentlessly praise one of the mothers of his children or praise a teammate or praise an opponent or praise anything and everything.
It's likely a shame because Lewis is an articulate speaker; a powerful, passionate preacher and his honest message on this subject could be profound. What happened? And why? And what did he learn?
While Lewis was initially charged with a homicide, along with two friends, he was offered a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony. While some give the familiar cry that he got away with murder, there is also the likelihood the evidence against him was particularly weak, or non-existent. Why would the prosecution just give up on the highest-profile defendant in an attempt to try the two anonymous men? It commonly works the other way.
In the end Lewis did what the system – both criminal and civil – required. That's it. Shouldn't it be enough?
And that's where acknowledgement is important. It's far easier for everyone to forgive if they think you haven't forgotten. The standoff game on this subject hasn't really helped Ray Lewis, especially when this is a man more than willing to share virtually every other detail of his life; his family, his kids, his dreams, his memories, his conversations and, particularly, his faith in a higher being.
"God has always been a part of my life," said Lewis, whose Ravens play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. "We've always believed in what faith is. And faith is a belief in things unseen. It's hard to believe or listen to what man says because man can be tricked by words. We all can. Oh, you are too small, you can't do this, you can't do that. And then you don't have too many people to believe in.
"So my relationship with God is the ultimate. I don't claim no religion, I claim that there is a higher power. I'm non-denominational. There is a higher power that I'm drawn to. I'm emotional when I go to him, because when I go to Him it is the ultimate conversation.
"And I know there is no bad conversation with him. The only bad conversation is the conversation you don't have with him. So it's awesome to have that in my life and I've been having that my whole life."
Here on the week of a big football game, most of the Ray Lewis talk caromed back and forth between these kinds of topics – long soliloquies about his faith and personal relationship with God, interspersed with refusals to discuss the tragic night of a double homicide or a two-year old story about using deer antler as a performance enhancing drug.
This is what Ray Lewis is willing to offer the world as an explanation: not much.
This time was a bit more than before, a nod to the fact that whatever happened that night hangs over him, but here with his career about to end in a dramatic finale against the 49ers, it's once again take it or leave it with Ray Lewis.
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