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Monday, January 22, 2001
Updated: September 13, 6:23 PM ET

Ray Lewis and responsibility


By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Me and Road Dog headed down to Tampa for Super Bowl. Not for the game. For The Way of Life.

The few. The proud. The Decadent. Oh, the insanity. Madness. Madness.

"Who's the Daddy this week?" Dog asked, as we boarded a flight.

"Ray Lewis," I said. "Ray Lewis is the bomb."

"Naw. Ray Lewis is the bombardier," said Dog.

"Yeah, he is," I said. "What they do is, those big tackles, Siragusa and Adams, they disrupt the O-line blocking scheme, don't let 'em get to Lewis' legs. Then he runs down whoever has the ball. He makes 'em pay. He has full responsibility." Then me and Road Dog got quiet, because of what I said. We felt the irony of the situation without saying a word. An in-flight movie came on called "The Contender," about politicians and sex. Road Dog said the only good thing about it was Gary Oldman, who was the Ray Lewis of actors, the way Rottweillers are the Ray Lewis of dogs, or Jesse Jackson is the Ray Lewis of straying preachers.

I don't always hang with Road Dog, like I'll be doing this week while sizing up the Super Bowl and the Florida scene for ESPN Page 2's Wrecking Crew. I only hang with Dog when appropriate. I try to fit my company with the occasion. Life taught me to do this, not to try to fit round pegs into square holes.

If I want some 240-pound guy in a football uniform -- like, say, Ron Dayne -- thrown to the ground and stomped on, I want Ray Lewis with me. If somebody breaks into my mother's house, and I am standing guard on the front porch with a baseball bat until the police arrive, I want a Rottweiller with me. If I want somebody to portray a lunatic in a movie, I want Gary Oldman with me. If I want to make a Colt .45 Malt Liquor commercial with Billy Dee Williams to appeal to middle-aged women, I want ... never mind.

If I want to go a level deeper, I want Cornel West with me. The Cornel West I want is not some XFL roadkill DB. Cornel West is a Harvard intellectual who would seem to have no value at the Super Bowl. But there's something else going on around the Super Bowl and its biggest name, Ray Lewis.

I figured Cornel West might not be too scared to call it what it was. "The sheer capriciousness of our situation," is what Mr. West calls it. He means the status of black men in our American society. We know that a year ago, Ray Lewis wasn't just the Super Bowl Name of the Moment whose jerseys were selling better than Beanie Babies. He was an accused murderer on trial for his life in Atlanta. The two murder victims were named Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker. I had to look their names up. They were black men. Dead now.

The co-defendants with Ray Lewis were also black men. Only a fool would deny the pattern.

Lewis was found not guilty. He had the money for a good defense. His "boys" beat it, too, in Ray's draft.

Lollar and Baker are still dead. And who do their mothers go to see about that?

What Cornel West meant was that there is a fine line to celebrity for a black man in America. If the man, like Ray Lewis, is too ignorant to avoid hangers-on who will do anything to impress him (or more likely to bring him down to their level), then Ray Lewis, or anybody like him, might go down no different than the bum begging quarters on the street. No use complaining about it. That's the reality that must be dealt with, that cannot be ignored if you are one of those admirable, hated, envied, despised and feared black men.

Dan Le Batard is a superb columnist for the Miami Herald. He co-penned a first person account in ESPN the Magazine with Ray Lewis. Le Batard did a good job capturing Lewis' thoughts. Lewis did not do such a good job of thinking. He asked, "How did I become O.J Simpson or Rae Carruth?" You ain't them, Ray. But you came close. You are the guy who rented too much stretch limo, a Lincoln Navigator, had it driven from Baltimore to Atlanta so all your so-called boys could fit in. You are the guy who went to that Atlanta club. You are the guy who witnessed what happened that night. You are the guy with no conscience.

Now, that can help a guy when he is fighting off blocks from 350-pound O-linemen, and turning quarterbacks like Steve McNair into javelins, spearing them into the ground. That does not help when you are trying to negotiate everyday life as a black man in America, like being faced with two 150-pound young boys, really, punks, yes, who just don't want to be fronted, don't want to be run over by a bunch of dudes in a stretch.

Ray Lewis will be the bomb in the Bowl. Who do Lollar's and Baker's mothers see when they watch him?

Me and Road Dog will get back around to the subject of Ray Lewis, Football Player, later in the week. But remember this, Ray: Ray Lewis is a football player for only two hours on Sunday about 20 weeks out of the year. That leaves a lot of time for you to be something else again, something like a sucker, a vic, a mark, a statistic, a stain, a black man in America, a contradiction, a bad man seen in the worse sense.

One other thing Cornel West said: "It's not all gloom and doom, Wiley. No, I'm not an optimist. But I am a prisoner of hope." You might want to think about that on the beach in Hawaii, at the Pro Bowl, Ray.

You might want to think, period, next time.

That crying you hear?

It's not all coming from the football players who complain that Ray Lewis takes borderline cheap shots.

Some of it comes from two mothers with nobody to see, nowhere to go, who can't hit back.

"You're breaking my heart," said Road Dog. "You're saying we as football fans should think about this?"

"No, Dog," I said. "I'm saying Ray Lewis should think about it."

It's was kind of cold in Tampa once we landed.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."