Lewis is a star, not role model

January 31, 2001|By Susan Reimer

RAY LEWIS didn't make the cover of the Wheaties box. He didn't do the "I'm going to Disney World" commercial, and he won't be wearing a milk mustache.

But he does have a piece of a Super Bowl trophy, he was the star of television's biggest annual show, and a city held a parade in his honor yesterday.

A handful of lost endorsements? It's hard to feel the cosmos has exacted much of a price for Lewis' part in the killings of two men a year ago and his stubborn refusal to publicly repent.

This kind of mixed message played out on the world stage is supposed to be hard to explain to children. It is supposed to blur the lines between right and wrong, between contrition and consequences.

How can there have been a crime if there is no punishment?

Ray Lewis was castigated by the national press for the entire week leading up to the Super Bowl for his refusal to ask for the forgiveness of the families of those two dead men and for his refusal to apologize for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Well, confession might be good for the soul, but Giants quarterback Kerry Collins proved it doesn't necessarily help your game. He recounted his battle with alcohol for the assembled press in agonizing detail, then went out and threw four interceptions.

What did we want to happen to the arrogant Lewis?

If the Baltimore Ravens had lost the Super Bowl, could we have said that God is just and Lewis was punished, along with 48 blameless teammates and an entire metropolitan area?

How are our children supposed to sort out the moral complexities of the Ray Lewis story: a monumentally successful athlete willfully returning to the sort of street thuggery his gifts allowed him to escape?

Actually, I'm not sure this story line really confuses our kids. After all, they've grown up on the likes of Dennis Rodman.

It might be more of a problem for their parents, who don't want to believe all that negative stuff now being written about Joe DiMaggio.

I think maybe the kids have this kind of thing all figured out. Cynicism is the appropriate response to unequal justice: What's the big deal? If you are rich enough, famous enough, powerful enough, you can get away with anything.

Our kids learn that lesson at school, where the best athletes or the best students don't get punished because of some mysterious loophole in the rules. Lesson: Make sure you are one of those kids.

"Sports hero" is an oxymoron. To paraphrase Charles Barkley, athletes aren't paid to be role models. They are entertainers, and they are paid for their talents.

They didn't earn their gifts with good behavior any more than their skills drain away from them as their demerits accumulate.

Cal Ripken appears to be a good guy - an athlete with an extraordinary work ethic, a devoted family man and community servant.

He has done such a good job polishing that image that it is probably worth more right now than his glove.

Ray Lewis is an anti-hero. He is a bad guy with a hard heart and a punishing playing style, and that image is money in the bank for him, too. Who do you want playing middle linebacker for you? Mr. Rogers?

If the contrast between Ray Lewis' misdeeds and his rewards is a dilemma for the parents of sports-loving children, it is one of our own making.

Twelve years old might be a little young to learn adult lessons: The good guys don't always win and the bad guys often don't get what's coming to them. But the job of hero to children better be filled in your house. That hero had better be you.

If your kids can't tell the difference between right and wrong, it isn't Ray Lewis' fault.

It's yours.

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