Could 2 Knees bring down Ray Lewis?
The optics of Ray Lewis kneeling during the national anthem put him at odds with Ravens Nation potentially putting his hard-earned legacy at risk. Simply put: it wasn’t a good look. Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens legend, was the best linebacker that ever played the game. The monstrous tackle that separated Eddie George from the football during the playoffs en route to the 2000 super bowl is forever etched in my memory due to its ferocity. And I’m a diehard Skins fan so go figure. As a footballer over the course of a highly decorated 17 year NFL career, Ray Lewis wore his heart on his sleeve and left it all on the pitch for his beloved Ravens. He was on a fast track to a well-deserved lucrative post-football career when his decision to bend both knees in London as the national anthem played during NFL’s week 3 has led to well over 53,000 signatures petitioning for the removal of the Ray Lewis statue in front of the Ravens M&T Bank Stadium.
How did we get here? Over the last three years to five, there has been an increase in killings of black victims due to police brutality mostly without corresponding convictions as exhibited by the following:
Trayvon Martin (17 yrs), Sanford, Florida: On February 26, 2012, Trayvon was unarmed and wearing a grey hoodie when he was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator. He was charged with Martin’s murder but acquitted at trial on self-defense grounds.
Michael Brown (18yrs), Ferguson, Missouri: On August 9, 2014, Michael was unarmed when he was shot by Officer Darren Wilson on the street in Ferguson, Missouri after a confrontation. A grand jury declined to indict Officer Wilson.
Laquan McDonald (17yrs), Chicago, Illinois: On October 20, 2014, Laquan was walking away from an alleged crime scene while holding a folded knife when Officer Van Dyke shot him 16 times (9 times in the back). He is awaiting trial for first-degree murder.
Tamir Rice (12yrs), Cleveland Ohio: On November 23, 2014, Tamir was playing with a toy gun in a park, when police responded to a 911 call that a man had a gun. Seconds after pulling up, officers opened fire, killing the kid. No one was charged.
Freddie Gray (25yrs), Baltimore, Maryland: On April 12, 2015, Freddie was arrested for having an illegal switchblade. He was handcuffed and put into the back of a police van. A week later, he was dead from a spinal cord injury sustained in police custody. Six officers were charged and tried but not even one was found guilty.
Philando Castile (32yrs old), Falcon Heights, Minnesota: On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was pulled over for a broken tail light. He reportedly told the officer he was licensed to carry a gun, and that he had one in the car. An officer shot him 5 times as he was apparently reaching for his license. The officer in question was charged with second-degree murder and found not guilty a few months ago.
Unfortunately, this list is not close to being exhaustive. The acquittal of Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case led to the formation of ‘Black Lives Matter’ in 2013. In spite of the protests, deaths of blacks due to police brutality continued to rise.
After a spate of more police brutality cases in 2016, then San Francisco 49er Quarterback, Colin Kaepernick said “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”. On September 1, 2016, Kaepernick knelt down for the first time during the U.S. national anthem rather than sit as he did in their previous games in order to show more respect to former and current U.S. military members while still protesting. On March 3, 2017, Kaepernick officially opted out of his contract with the 49ers, an option as part of his restructured contract, therefore making him a free agent at the start of the 2017 league year.
Then in August 2017, it seems like lightning was about to strike with none other than Ray Lewis and the Ravens looking to throw Kaepernick a lifeline when supposedly an ill-advised tweet from Kap’s girlfriend was enough to pull the plug on the deal. That’s what Ray Lewis asserted. In fact, Ray Lewis went one step further and stated that “I’ve never been against Colin Kaepernick. But I am against the way he’s done it”. Ray was objecting to Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the anthem. To date, Kaepernick still remains unemployed – in spite of statistically being better than many starting NFL quarterbacks – leading most pundits to believe that he possibly has been blackballed by NFL team owners for disrespecting the flag and national anthem.
On September 22, 2017, during a rally in Alabama, President Trump advised NFL owners that “when somebody disrespects our flag [to say] get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired!’. The NFL players, supported by team owners, took an issue to being called ‘son of a bitch’ and responded with a mostly unified decision to take one knee down during the national anthem in defense of Kaepernick and his crusade against police brutality. This created a divide between the NFL players and a section of the country that took issue with protesting any grievance during the national anthem.
On September 24, 2017, at a game in London, along with Ravens players, Ray Lewis kneels both knees down during the national anthem in support of Kaepernick? Right? Wrong. When asked as to why he went back on his word, Ray says that he did not go back on his word and was not protesting anything nor was he disrespecting the flag. Apparently, the two knees were to “simply honor God in the midst of chaos.” He had to pray because too many ‘babies’ on the Ravens did not know what to do so that was his way of taking a leadership role in the ‘midst of chaos’. Really? I wasn’t aware that praying and standing up or kneeling for what you believe in were mutually exclusive.
For me personally, I was very disappointed with Ray Lewis because I’ve always seen him as a natural born leader not just on the pitch but especially off the pitch where his community service and motivational speaking ability has inspired many. That said, Ray shied away from a leadership opportunity in the midst of chaos. Ray did not take a stand in the midst of chaos. In the midst of chaos, Ray was neither here nor there. Why? Possibly because he did not want to offend the supporters that bought his jerseys and the sponsors that kept his coffers full. If he felt strongly about his initial position then Ray should have stood up during the national anthem and deal with the inevitable blowback from the African American community. Had he knelt down, then he’d have looked like the biggest hypocrite in the business. So he tried to play it safe and looks to have come up short if the 53,000 signature petition is an indicator.
Notwithstanding, it will take a lot more than a human lapse in judgment on whether to stand or kneel (on one knee) to take down Ray Lewis and his statute given all the good work he has done for the City of Baltimore both on and off the field. However, what is lost in the midst of this chaos is the Ray Lewis criticism and the criticism to kneel during the national anthem both attempt to mask the real issue of the first amendment right of free speech to protest injustice and police brutality in America: young blacks being killed by police officers throughout America and mostly without any justice. That is why Kaepernick has been taking the knee during the national anthem and not to disrespect the flag nor the national anthem. Hopefully, now that Ray Lewis and the entire league – especially the 32 billionaire owners – have seen the hypocrisy of their actions, someone will step up to the plate and give Mr. Kaepernick a job as an NFL quarterback and quit punishing him for simply exercising his first amendment right to protest peacefully.