If we’re going to canonize Lewis for the person he became after the lowest moment in his life then we also need to understand why he became such a redemptive figure — because many thought him once to be irredeemable.
Between the people of Charm City wanting to bronze him and Wes Welker’s wife calling him a double-murderer last week on her Facebook page after the AFC championship game, there is probably a middle ground reserved for a flawed but indeed redemptive character.
Until Lewis accepts that gray area — that, after everything, he is probably somewhere south of absolute hero and north of heathen, and not squarely on one side of the good-evil spectrum — he is always going to feel persecuted and not understand the real truth:
Ray Lewis is not a victim of the scrutiny he receives; he volunteered for it.
“If you want to say you’re Mr. Religious and all of that, have a clean record,” former Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer said this past week. “Don’t say all of that stuff if you know there’s stuff that might come back. Those are the things that, when I look at him, I just think hypocrisy.”
His legacy is extremely complicated, and all the talk of banned substance, squirrel dances and the sanctimonious nature of some of Lewis’s comments about himself, his faith and almost everything but his team this week have made that legacy more complicated.
“At the end of the day, don’t ever let adversity define who you are,” he begins, “Let it overwhelm who you are.”
It sounds good and right, the wisdom of an old NFL linebacker strapping on the helmet and bearing down on a ballcarrier one last time on the final night of this pixie-dusted Baltimore season. But 17 years later, I don’t really know how genuine it is -- how genuine Ray Lewis really is.
I won’t root against him because of that. But I can’t root for him.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.