The Obstructed View: Why People Root For Ray Lewis

In addition to my media notes, I’ll be swinging by Wednesday afternoons to write a weekly column dealing with How We Think About Sports (or something), entitled “The Obstructed View.” Think of it as an unfortunate tariff to my other work here. Feel free to yell at me on Twitter about it (@Hadfield__) or email me at [email protected]

Like most of America, I will watch Super Bowl XLVII. And, like most of America, a smirk will take shape on my face as I watch Ray Lewis do his pregame ritual dance. I picture most of America having this reaction, smirking in unison as Lewis performs his cathartic rain dance like a lunatic.

Meanwhile, residents of Maryland experience The Big Game Jitters. You know what I’m talking about – numbness transforms into tingly excitement which, eventually, transforms into a pit in your stomach. “It’s the Super Bowl! And we’re here, we’re really here!!!” (Even though, in reality, they are watching from their couch. You get the point.) Oh, and they’ll smirk too, of course, but out of nervousness, like meeting your girlfriend’s dad for the first time.

Shortly after, the national anthem will happen. Ray Lewis will cry or, at the very least, ooze emotion. This will undoubtedly upset the virtual world – Twitter and Facebook – and prompt reaction at whatever Super Bowl party you’re attending. This dude can’t be serious. America will collectively utter to itself.

And, together, as one nation, we stand, laughing at Lewis; while Maryland, alone, proudly stands, their faces resplendent and nervously grinning, as they struggle to put the corsage on their girlfriend’s dress in front of pops before prom.

***

There is a common theme here that is completely exclusive, but mutually shared among fans of every successful team, in every sport. Our Guys. We relent, in circumstances, that Our Guys are bad people, or Our Guys are definitely just misunderstood. Either way, we make excuses for them because, well, they’re Our Guys.

Sometimes transgressions are so innocuous that we don’t really have to make excuses at all. For instance, Our Guys sponsor Male Uggs and dress feminine; flex while a player they concussed is being helped off the field; flip off a crowd; are sore losers; have children with 13 different women; swear on the basketball court (Relax, Dale. Every kid makes it to the back of the bus to hear the “bad words” at some point or another.); and have pregame routines eerily similar to Lewis’ (except we don’t notice, because they’re Our Guys.)

Other times, the actions taken – or not taken – reflect such poor character that we can’t make excuses. It’s quite possible, for example, Our Guys may or may not have taken PEDs (but hey, so did Your Guys … we rationalize.); harbor (and fail to disclose) knowledge of sexual assault on multiple children; and can inspire hundreds of thousands of people and raise millions of dollars for cancer research – all while lying about the means they took to acquire that inspiration and platform to do so.

Strangely, in the rarest of occasions, we just don’t know what to think about Our Guys. That’s because, these days, they can be tricked into having an out-of-this-world tragedy attached to an imaginary girlfriend; which, who knows, may have not been a trick after all.

The sailient point is that these guys – Our Guys – are a means to an end to memories of championship euphoria. Years later, when it’s over, we recant our opinion to the rest of America about their shortcomings as a human. We never invited them over for dinner, to our daughter’s wedding, or to watch a movie.

But in the here and now, provincial bias and glory trumps moral high ground, leaving good people to root for bad things, I guess. That’s why, when listening to fans and media folks alike discredit Ravens fans for rooting for a murder suspect, I shake my head. And maybe – just maybe — as Ravens fans hum along to “Seven Nation Army,” in awe of their fearless leader, I’ll take a moment to smirk with them instead of at them, not because I agree, but because I understand their burden, their relationship, to Their Guy.

[UPDATE: I didn't adequately highlight this initially, but if a team's success wanes, then, naturally, a player's personal issues -- like, say, Mike Vick or Will Cordero (kudos to commentator, Winning), come to the forefront. You think The Hoodie gets treated unjustly now? See what happens if the Patriots on-field dominance ever falters.]

  • Dan

    When you say “smirk”, do you mean “wince”?

  • ben

    Tough to believe i’d appreciate Ray Lewis if he played here but you could go on and on with this stuff. Rodney Harrison and the HGH was quickly excused and Garnett’s antics i enjoy. I’d probably celebrate either Harbaugh as coach here but root hard against them now. Spygate? Today i can’t believe others’ focus on it but maybe i’d discredit the Pats were i fan of another.

  • Winning_Again

    Well written article Ryan and I understand you point. However, I do feel there are exceptions. Granted I was very young when this happened, but from what I’ve heard, I don’t remember hearing people defend Wilfredo Cordero for spousal abuse. Again, I was young, but from everything I remember, he was outcast and people wanted his head. Maybe “we” as fans, only feel protective of that “star player” who must rise to X status level before getting the protective cloak around their shoulders. Obviously Cordero never has that cache.

    • http://twitter.com/Hadfield__ Ryan Hadfield

      Absolutely — this is true. That’s why I put the word successful in there. I didn’t adequately highlight this, but if success wanes, so does the excuse for rooting for Our Guys. Those Cordero teams, for the most part, were middle-of-the-road at best, in essence, making his personal issues at the forefront of the story. Long story long: You think it’s unfair for The Hoodie now — and many do — if the Patriots falter, BB is screwed.

      • http://twitter.com/DryHeave1 DryHeave

        well, I do think it’s contingent on the, “misconduct” too…I admit it, I root for laundry. However I draw the line when it comes to (PROVEN BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT) crimes like spousal abuse, rape or any kind of crime against a child……anything else I give a pass if he’s one of “Our Guys”……see?…I have standards!

        • Winning_Again

          I agree with this too. I think we, as mostly moral human beings, draw the line when an athletes “transgression” directly effect others. For example:
          1) Murder
          2) Rape
          3) Abuse

          However we tend to let things slide if the transgression is:
          1) PED use
          2) Narcotic/Alcohol abuse
          3) Theft

          *However I do find it very interesting how we as a society treat Drunk Driving. If the driver just gets pulled over and loses their license/cash, we tend to ignore it. However, when a Josh Brent incident occurs, we are outraged. I personally don’t understand, why it takes the loss of life to elicit this reaction. The potential is always there, which is plain old scary.

        • http://twitter.com/Hadfield__ Ryan Hadfield

          To clarify, these columns are meant to coerce discussion in a genuine and creative way. Not trying to play devil’s advocate, in fact, I hope to do the opposite by removing bias and filters, and (ultimately) explore How We Think About Sports. I’m happy it appears to have worked here.

          Anyway, from my vantage point, both situations are sticky and I would classify neither as a “good” person. Still, despite the snark and suspicion, Lewis falls within the gray area discussed here. I absolutely think he is revered in Boston if he plays for the Patriots, instead of a rival. Same goes for Kobe — whose rape victim had more than a few holes in her story, which is sort of the point of this column. Again, to reiterate, I’m with you — Cordero’s case was cut and dry; he crossed the line.

        • http://www.bostonsportsmediawatch.com/ bsmfan

          Actually, you see Jay Ratlife just got pulled over for DD yesterday? Apparently the Cowboys didn’t get the message on DD.

          No life lost and I assume he’s got nothing but a court date.. but really?

          Maybe it is because of how its reported?

          I never get it.

          Plow into someone because you’re 0.1 and behind the wheel? Page 6. Someone gets shot (but only if it’s not in a big city where its going on constantly anyways)? Media outrage.

          I think part of it has to do with the reporting angle and how it’s framed. The other falls into the proverbial question you posed above on “why isn’t there more outrage?”

          As one exec was quoted by @MoveOnSticks (great scout from NFL Network to follow) “We’ll draft bank robbers” (responding to the Te’o stuff.) If the dude can play, the dude can play.

  • Stolfuts

    Defense lawyer says ‘no doubt’ Ray Lewis would have been acquitted in deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar in post-Super Bowl XXXIV brawl at Cobalt Lounge

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