This past Saturday, I joined most of America in watching the NFL Wildcard games. As I scrolled through my phone, scanning Twitter and Facebook, the overwhelming trend of the day was Ray Lewis. As he stepped on the field for his last home game, posts flooded my screen about what an icon he was, his legend, his unforgettable accomplishments.
It’s almost as if he was never an accessory to murder.
In case you are unaware, Ray Lewis was an accessory in the 2000 murder of Atlanta’s Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar- whose girlfriend was about seven months pregnant with his daughter at the time. What resulted was a messy court proceeding that still remains unresolved. Instead of facing charges for his crime, Lewis accepted a plea deal to testify against his two friends and earned him only a year of probation and a fine from the NFL. Two men still remain dead with no one to blame, one little girl lives without ever knowing her father. The next year, Lewis was named Super Bowl MVP.
Meanwhile Philadelphia’s quarterback (for how long, is yet to be determined) Michael Vick is still facing an endless backlash for the dog fighting scandal that led to almost two years in jail and bankruptcy. When he joined the team in 2009 I was among the many to condemn him and Andy Reid. I despised the Eagles, and refused to watch. But then I saw what a changed man he was, and how hard Vick was working to right his wrongs, and my opinions have changed. I just wish that more people would see what change can do.
The point of our country’s federal prisons is to rehabilitate criminals to make them safe and substantial members of society. Since his release from prison, Michael Vick has campaigned against dog fighting, joining the Humane Society‘s End Cruelty and Fighting Campaign and Pets for Life in a public fight to teach others from his mistakes. Meanwhile he continued to promote his own foundations within the community, Team Vick and the Michael Vick Foundation, and worked with the Eagles, while serving as a shining example of single fatherhood and tackling the challenging schedule of a professional athlete. He is proof of the benefits of our judicial system, but he’s still received by most as a criminal, a monster. What’s the point of our federal courts if their benefits go unnoticed?
There’s a huge difference between Vick and Lewis and that lies entirely in the court system. Michael Vick owned up to his crimes and payed the price, while Lewis took a plea deal to testify against his two friends and save himself. Lewis never came forward to take responsibility for the night of his crime. Vick did his time, and Lewis sold out.
A real hero, a true legend, is not determined on the field. They are found in their actions off the field, in their ability to right their wrongs and help others along the way. Ray Lewis has done nothing to publicly own up to what he did: even if he didn’t stick the knife in, he lied to police and did nothing to help bring justice to two murdered men. Then he put on a helmet and won a few games, and suddenly to his fans all is forgiven. Maybe if Michael Vick went further this season, or got a Superbowl ring since his release, he would be more of a hero. But is that how we as a nation should judge our legends?