Commentary

No crime wave in these lockout stories

Despite the assertions of Ray Lewis, many NFL players are being productive

Originally Published: May 24, 2011
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

Ray Lewis loves hyperbole about as much as he loves celebrating his own tackles.

Sometimes, he seems to get lost in his own exuberance, which appears to be what happened with his comments in a one-on-one interview with ESPN's Sal Paolantonio that aired Sunday.

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis and LaShaun Armstrong
AP Photo/Stephen Chernin If his good work during the United Athletes Foundation Gala in late April is an indication, Ray Lewis won't be involved in the crime rise he predicts.

Lewis told Paolantonio that he believes crime will escalate if there isn't an NFL season, which ranks right up there as one of the most illogical arguments ever made during a work stoppage.

"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 said.

Maybe he's been spending time with Harold Camping.

It isn't clear whether Lewis was talking about players, fans or both, but his comments did a huge disservice to his NFL colleagues. I can't say I've seen much evil from NFL players during the lockout, which has stretched to 70 days as of Tuesday.

In fact, what I've seen is the direct opposite of evil.

Two days before Lewis' rant, Chicago Bears draftee J.T. Thomas made national news for taking an eighth-grade girl with spina bifida to her end-of-school formal dance.

"I figured I'm not doing anything right now, and we don't have anything to do with the team," Thomas, a fifth-year senior out of West Virginia who was taken in the sixth round last month, told ESPN.com. "So it wouldn't hurt for me to go to the prom with her."

That doesn't sound too nefarious. In fact, it sounds like the kind of story that should inspire Lewis. And it should get all of us to see an underlying positive in the lockout: A lot of players are spending their non-football time making themselves into better people.

Thomas met 14-year-old Joslyn Levell through his 7-year-old brother, Jared, who suffers from autism and rides the same bus in Morgantown, W.Va., as Levell.

Their bus driver contacted Thomas' stepmother, telling her there was a transplanted Bears fan on his bus that Thomas should meet. So one day, Thomas surprised Levell and boarded the bus to talk to her.

To his surprise, she began to cry during their conversation, and it wasn't because she was still heartbroken over the Bears' loss to the Packers in the NFC championship. She was sad because she had asked several boys to the dance, and all of them had declined.

Thomas couldn't stand to see her so miserable. His stepmother, Rochelle, checked with the school and Joslyn's parents, and then Thomas called Joslyn to ask her to the dance.

"I was a little nervous," he said. "I was saying, 'What if she turns me down? Maybe she has a date or she's scared.'"

His fears were unfounded. Even though Joslyn is a confined to a wheelchair, the two danced and had a great time.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Thomas
AP Photo/Stew MilneOne eighth-grade girl in Morgantown will vouch for J.T. Thomas' character during the lockout.

Would this have been possible if it weren't for the lockout?

"Probably not," Thomas said. "I would probably be learning plays and getting ready for the upcoming season. It was a blessing in itself for it to be a lockout and for me to be able to change her life."

Considering that during recent offseasons, the NFL has dealt with Michael Vick's dogfighting case, sexual assault accusations against Ben Roethlisberger and Plaxico Burress' gun fiasco, Thomas' good deed looks even more spectacular.

And it makes what Lewis said look even more misguided.

Certainly, there have been players who have been linked to criminal incidents during the lockout, but there are far more examples of players who are using the lockout as an opportunity to grow.

The Denver Post published a story Monday about third-year Broncos safety David Bruton, who is substitute-teaching for $90 a day at his Miamisburg, Ohio, high school, during the lockout.

And not because he needs the money.

"I'm just trying to keep busy," Bruton told the Post.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Steve Terill/AFP/Getty ImagesSome of Larry Fitzgerald's lockout time was spent in Rwanda, fitting free hearing aids on people too poor to afford them.

Likewise, nine NFL players, including Larry Fitzgerald, Santonio Holmes and Adrian Peterson, went on a mission to Africa as part of PROS FOR AFRICA, which helped deliver hearing aids to underprivileged people in Uganda and Rwanda.

Unfortunately, some of the negative headlines during the lockout -- injudicious tweets from Reggie Bush and Rashard Mendenhall, an awkward comparison between NFL players and slaves by the Vikings' Peterson, and Dez Bryant's sagging pants -- will overshadow how much the work stoppage has helped some players.

And sure, players such as Chad Ochocinco, who rode a bull recently and tried out for Kansas City's MLS team, are spending their time on more frivolous pursuits. But even then, there's nothing wrong with opening up to new experiences.

We've seen a lot of players struggle with life after the NFL because they've spent so much of their lives immersed in the game. I'm not suggesting we should feel sorry for them because they certainly knew the sacrifices required to become a pro football player.

But being given more time to broaden horizons and make a positive impact? That doesn't seem so evil.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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