Sometime in the next few weeks a football player named Ray Lewis will play his final game and retire.
This column isn’t specifically about Ray, so I’ll just fill you in on the basics of his back-story. He’s been an excellent defender and will be considered in most experts’ lists of top 10 defensive players of all-time.
Early in his career, he was part of a group that got into an altercation outside of an Atlanta bar where two people ended up stabbed to death. Rumors have persisted for years that Lewis helped his friends, who reportedly did the stabbing, to leave the scene and destroy evidence. Nobody was ever charged with a crime. In his later years, Lewis has been reported to be a team leader, a vocal preacher, and a “good” Christian.
Now that he’s retiring, the football talking heads are proclaiming him a great man and a great leader.
This is where my rant begins.
Whether or not Lewis had a part to play in the death of two men, whether or not he’s a great leader and whether or not he’s a good Christian are immaterial to me. It seems like we can just say he’s a great player, pat him on the back for years of excellence and leave it at that. This isn’t a novel concept. Dick Butkus retired with the view he was the best defensive player ever. Then Lawrence Taylor retired and the general consensus was that he surpassed Butkus as the best defensive player ever.
Many greats have come and gone and were praised for their actions on the field. Where I start to get heated is when we force feed stories from off the field.
Maybe it is just me, but it seems like we have to “one-up” the generation before us. Everything has to be the best thing since sliced bread. Being great at football isn’t quite good enough. We have to say a person is great. We have to add extra descriptions to bolster this greatness. Great leaders. Great mentors. Great Christians.
Is it really the media’s job to decide who is a great leader or a great Christian? If not, then why even apply the label?
I understand that we look up to athletes. I get it that we create idols. I’m fully aware that some people live vicariously through a favorite team or player. But I just don’t get why we have to make somebody who has a certain skill great in all aspects. Not only is it unnecessary, it oftentimes isn’t even true.
Recognizing greatness should be good enough. Creating the Super Great, Super-duper Great, Best Ever just seems like an exercise in futility.
You can reach Scott at email@example.com to chuckle at the word Butkus.