Never has an athlete been more ready to grab the bully pulpit provided by the excessive word orgy that is the lead-up to the Super Bowl than Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
The question is: Are we ready for what he has to say?
Because if the Gospel according to Tebow led to unnecessary controversy, which it did, wait until they get a load of The Gospel according to Ray. He has been preaching God as a Ravens fan for a while now, most recently to Sal Palantonio in the aftermath of the Ravens victory in the AFC Championship game, and many view this as hypocrisy. Or heresy. Or worse.
We shushed religion talk from Tim Tebow because he was not a good enough player. Now with Lewis, a Hall of Famer, it is because he is not a good enough man.
Our problem is not with the messengers at all but the message. We want a separation of church and football. But why? What about Lewis crediting God for Baltimore’s amazing run gets us so crossways?
“When you sacrifice something for God, he will give you anything your heart desires if it aligns with his will,” Lewis said in Sunday’s crazy aftermath. “… God just kept telling me ‘No weapon formed against me shall prosper. No weapon formed against my team shall prosper.’ ”
I feel compelled to point out this is from Isaiah 54:17, with the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation particularly helpful in the case of Lewis. “No weapon formed against you will succeed, and you will refute any accusation raised against you in court.”
It is impossible to write about Lewis — what he says, how he plays, his legacy, his faith — without bringing up what he may or may not have done in the wee hours of January 31, 2000. He had some level of involvement in a double murder following a Super Bowl party in Atlanta, as evidenced by blood in his car and a murder indictment against him that was dropped in exchange for testimony and undisclosed settlements with the victims’ families.
Many remain unconvinced of his innocence. Most recent among them is Anna Burns Welker, wife of Patriots receiver Wes Welker, who wrote this on Facebook after Sunday’s game: “Proud of my husband and the Pats. By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis’ Wikipedia page. 6 kids 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay. What a hall of fame player! A true role model!”
So the people who do not like athletes talking about religion are annoyed with the Gospel according to Ray and the people who loved this type of preaching from Tebow are not exactly in Lewis’ demographic. My question is why? Why do we love religion from Tebow and not Lewis?
Because the reality is Lewis’ story is more symbolic of Christianity than Tebow’s. He epitomizes screwing up and being redeemed, of traveling far down a wrong road before turning around, of turning his life over to a higher power. It is not a stretch to say that whatever happened that night in Atlanta was Lewis’ come-to-Jesus moment. He has changed in the aftermath, which is why he always talks about God and salvation so fervently.
I get that not everybody wants to hear him. These are cynical sports times we live in, replete with fake dead girlfriends and Hall of Famers charging a coach with intentionally losing a Super Bowl. It is a hard time to be selling faith, even harder to sell redemption.
And Lewis can be a little theatrical, if not outright preachy, when he talks.
“Any time you trust in God, man can’t tell you what you can’t do,” Lewis said. “I respect the game too much and I was hurt when I saw a sign that actually said my retirement would end tonight. Man can’t dictate that. God dictates that.”
The criticism is tethered to Lewis’ belief, or at least implication, that God wanted the Ravens to win. This is shaky theological ground, although in no way uncharted. God is rooting for my team was the general idea behind the crusades and just about every idiotic religious war since.
I tend to believe God roots for everybody. But beliefs are beliefs and who are we to tell Lewis he is wrong? He actually seems to be sending a pretty good message, about how all things are possible through God and about believing in spite of the odds.
He will say all of this loudly and fervently at the Super Bowl, using the bully pulpit provided to preach the Gospel of Ray. He has every right, just like Tebow before him. And if we stop complaining long enough to listen, we may just be inspired.