So, it looks like 2013 is quickly becoming the Year of the Fraud in sports. Or maybe it’s just coincidence that we’re finally starting to debunk the myths Lance Armstrong and Ray Lewis have been feeding us for ages.
I’ll never understand what took so long. For some reason, it appears to have taken a superficial milestone surrounding both athletes before many observers started asking questions or looking for answers.
With Armstrong, it came last week with his half-hearted, anti-climatic admission and apology for using performance-enhancing drugs. No one was surprised that the seven-time Tour de France winner cheated to win in a sport rampant with drug use.
But now the media bandwagon appears full of armchair critics who suddenly are outraged over the lives Armstrong crushed and the intimidation tactics he used to amass fame and fortune off the Livestrong empire.
News flash: Those stories have been around –- and true -– for years. Armstrong not only threatened to destroy the lives of any detractor who got in his way, he followed through on many such threats.
Just look at the case of Greg LeMond, the three-time Tour winner whom Armstrong basically strong-armed into oblivion by persuading LeMond’s sponsors to stop doing business with him.
Of course, many observers believed Armstrong doped and, despite overwhelming evidence to that notion, stating speculation as fact can come with legal ramifications. Many media outlets learned this the hard way when Armstrong sued them – and won.
However, his consistency in the way he has treated people never has changed. Yet it took the combination of Armstrong giving up his fight against the United States Anti Doping Agency and his admission last week for some people to finally let go of their grip on the Myth of Lance.
Shoot, some people are still arguing that the “good” he did for cancer patients through his foundation outweighs the negative actions. I say anyone who benefitted form the Livestrong foundation simply got a beneficial whiff from the fumes of the vehicle Armstrong used for his personal gain.
I doubt Armstrong is opposed to having a positive influence in anyone’s life, but I also doubt he would have lost any sleep if you told him he hadn’t influence one person for the better.
All you have to do is look at some soundbytes from his interview with Oprah Winfrey last week: Armstrong looks like the reluctant truant who is apologizing to the principal for no reason other than hoping to reduce his detention time. Sincerity clearly isn’t his forte.
The same might also be said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who might be on the cusp of finishing off his fairytale – and perhaps mythical – NFL career with another Super Bowl victory, 12 years after he was MVP in his first appearance.
The self-proclaimed God-fearing Lewis has the whole “cry-on-command” thing down pat these days. His internal tear-jerker has been on automatic drip during the playoffs – he cries during the national anthem, he cries on the field and in postgame interviews.
I’ve been a little bit surprised – and, admittedly, pleasantly so – at the number of media types who have started suggesting Lewis’s legacy should be one a great football player weighted against the fact that he was involved in a double-murder on Super Bowl Sunday in 2000, and has never yet come clean about what happened that fateful night.
But it shouldn’t take another Super Bowl appearance for these questions to arise – I’ve been wondering for years why no one in the media, particularly someone in Baltimore who covers the team – never has had the nerve to ask Lewis exactly what happened that night, and why the families of the victims still have no answers.
I think there are a couple explanations. For one, most media, I’m convinced, are scared of the guy. Can you imagine covering the team and being the one who writes the column about him answering for his actions, then having to walk past him the locker room every day? It’s not a pleasant proposition.
Moreover, many of the media have, at least on the surface, bought his shtick and practically worship the guy. I’m convinced if Ray Lewis were Warren Sapp, or a player less media-friendly, the hard questions would already have been asked.
Nobody wants to be the first to break from the pack, and doing so might crack the foundation of the pedestal on which Lewis was long ago placed. And at some point, everyone decided that they either didn’t want to be the first one to swing the hammer, or that doing so was just too much work.
Couldn’t blame them for the latter. This is a guy who has job offers waiting for him from ESPN and the NFL commissioner when his playing days are through. He’s incessantly celebrated as a combination of a gridiron warrior, spiritual ambassador and family man.
The fact that he openly lied about the murder case has long been an inconvenient speed bump on the story of Lewis going from behind bars to Super Bowl hero. As such, most have just ignored it.
Until now, that is. Hey, if it takes Lewis getting to a Super Bowl for these questions to be asked, then I’m all for it. Though I will say now, if the Ravens somehow defeat the 49ers, I will be on the phone to the local carpet company because mine will be ruined from the vomit I will inflict on it at the sight of what is sure to be one more spectacular, relentless reel of Lewis worshipping.
It’s not that I believe people should never be able to escape their mistakes. But doing so comes with making amends and taking consequences from one’s actions, and Lewis never has been big on either.
If Michael Vick were playing in the Super Bowl, I’d hope that questions about his past were minimal. I don’t condone what he did, but at some point he came clean with the truth and also paid a price for his behavior.
Lewis was charged with murder after a bloody brawl in Atlanta left two men stabbed to death. Eye witnesses at the time claimed Lewis was actively involved in the fight, and there’s little dispute he destroyed evidence.
Lewis spent two weeks in the county lock-up, during which he conveniently found Jesus. Prosecutors eventually agreed to drop the murder charges in exchange for a guilty plea to obstruction of justice and a promise to testify against the other two defendants in the case.
The linebacker snatched this get-out-of-jail-free card faster than a starving lion can pounce on a rib-eye steak. The problem is that he failed to hold up his end of the bargain.
On the witness stand, Lewis suddenly couldn’t remember anything about the night of the murders. Other witnesses, including those who had implicated Lewis suddenly had fuzzy memories, too.
Ultimately, his lack of cooperation led to all three suspects – himself included – walking out of the court free men. The only thing the families of the victims received was a check Lewis wrote — reluctantly — when it became clear he stood to lose civil lawsuits they filed. No apologies.
It was a win-win for Lewis. He kept his street cred in tact by the carefully orchestrated manner in which he failed to roll over on his homeboys while on the witness stand, and he also was afforded the opportunity to resume his undeniably Hall of Fame-worthy NFL career.
For years, Lewis has referenced the Atlanta murders as if he were the victim — with his highly spiritual diatribes about seeing life’s dark side and such — and the next time he publicly acknowledges the real victims will be the first.
That’s why I hope the media are absolutely relentless during Super Bowl week with questions about the Atlanta murder. So much so that maybe Lewis goes home one night and actually gives some thought to the victims, and maybe doesn’t sleep so well.
A couple of weeks ago, a USA Today reporter asked Lewis a question about the murders. Of course, the reporter was unceremoniously dissed — as he stood to spoil all the fun surrounding the hype Lewis was getting for this playoff run — and no one else pushed the issue.
But the incident seemed to spawn more media interest in revisiting details about the case. For the record, I’ve never once been inspired by Ray Lewis, but I do get fired up when someone like Jay Busbee of Yahoo! Sports has the guts to bring up questions that need to be asked.
Busbee penned an excellent column about the case (linked below) in which he writes:
“The story of Ray Lewis is the story of American culture at its most redemptive … and its most soulless.”
At one point, the columnist references a fairly recent interview with Lewis:
“I’m always disturbed in my spirit about how people look at me from that incident,” Lewis continued in another interview. “Those families that were affected will never know the truth. And that’s sad.”
Busbee: But why will they never know the truth? Isn’t it within his power to tell them?
I’ll answer those in reverse order: Of course, it’s in Lewis’s power to tell them. And they’ll never know the truth because old Ray ain’t talking. And it’s about time some light is shed on this story, which has been grossly under-reported for more than a decade.
I used to think that someday, when his football career no longer was in jeopardy, maybe Lewis would come out with the truth about the murders and his involvement in them.
On second thought, there’s no chance. He’s got a lucrative media career ahead of him, and there’s no way he is going to endanger the myth he has worked so hard and so long to cultivate and protect.