I have said it before and I will say it again. I know that, as a rule, GetReligion readers care very little about what happens in the world of sports. Nevertheless, some of you may have heard that there is a rather big football game being played tonight in New Orleans, with the Baltimore Ravens squaring off against the San Francisco 49ers. It's in all the newspapers.
Some readers may also have heard that a very famous, sure first-ballot Hall of Fame linebacker named Ray Lewis is -- after 17 remarkable years -- playing his last game for the Ravens.
Now, whether one considers Lewis a kind of urban saint or a man who, literally, got away with being an accessory to murder, this big man is a major figure in American sports. There is no way around this. Click here for a GetReligion post containing all of the basics.
With the Super Bowl looming, ESPN.com summed this all up the other day:
Do you believe in Ray Lewis? Do you embrace the eye black, smeared down both of his cheeks, occasionally mixed with tears? Does your heart pump faster when he dances, feet sliding, biceps bulging? Do you nod and say, "Amen" when he speaks? Do you have your name in his cellphone? There are hundreds in the NFL who do, my friend -- rookies, Ravens and even the poor soul he just flattened on the 20-yard line. "I love you," Ray will tell some of them. And they love him, too. ...
Do you see it in his eyes, his passion? Maybe you roll your eyes because Lewis is doing another news conference in designer sunglasses when it's dark outside. But do you believe? That villains can become heroes? Do you buy into what he's selling? It's simple, really. Either you do or you don't; you're in or you're out. ... Do you believe in Ray Lewis? Do you believe that a man should be judged at his very worst or his very best?
Now, I know a lot about the sins in Lewis' past and, in posts here, I have tried to deal with the press coverage of the man's fiery, if at times vague, faith. After reading a week or two of the "last ride" coverage, I think it is rather obvious that a significant number of reporters simply want the man to shut up -- especially about God.
Forget the last pre-game dance. Many are dreading the last post-game sermon.
Well, I want to urge GetReligion readers to pay close attention to the post-game sermon. In particular, I want folks to see whether Lewis is outspoken about the blessings of God if the Ravens win and silent on the blessings of God if they lose.
Personally, I want the Ravens to win, but I rather expect the '49ers to win (with the key being whoever runs the ball most effectively). So I think we will have a chance to hear Lewis deal with defeat.
Listen carefully. While it often sounds like Lewis thinks God is on his side, what he actually keeps saying is that God has a message for believers -- whether they win or lose. Lewis almost always say that God's will and purpose cannot be defeated, no matter what happens on the football field. In other words, Lewis believes that a life of faith is more important than the final score on the scoreboard.
Will this be clear in the coverage? Let's pay close attention.
Also, watch for the interactions between Lewis and other players post-game -- players on both teams. I think what you will see is that, beyond football respect, there will be other ties that bind on display.
This section of the ESPN report rang true:
Ray Lewis is a friend. The contact list on his cellphone is loaded with football names, big and small, teammates and rivals. ...
Here's what Ravens center Matt Birk knows: That four years ago, he arrived in Baltimore from Minnesota, and wasn't sure if Lewis would know who he was. Lewis passed by Birk when he was weighing in, said hello and congratulations, and it was great to have him there. That in the NFL, there's something called an "old-guy day," when veterans with creakier bones can skip a practice, and Lewis, in Birk's four years in Baltimore, has never taken one.
"I have a problem with trying to judge what's in somebody's heart," Birk says. "I mean, I get it. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. It's kind of the same thing with like a Tim Tebow. Whatever you do, there's going to be people who don't like you or you rub the wrong way for whatever reason. That's OK. I'm not going to speak for Ray, but when you're in the public eye, you just have to be true to yourself and don't worry about what others think.
"The guy plays his heart out. Every single Sunday."
Then again, Birk is -- well -- Matt Birk. He's one of those believer guys himself, of the Catholic kind. He is biased.
Anyway, enjoy the game. Then pay close attention to the coverage of the Godtalk. Let us know, in the comments pages, what you see and hear. URLs will be much appreciated.