I recently had a very important life lesson validated courtesy of Ray Lewis.
Lewis is somewhat of an enigma. He was said to be the heart and soul of the Baltimore Ravens team that recently won the Super Bowl. Ray has played linebacker for the Ravens for 17 years. That is remarkable longevity given the constant, high velocity collisions that go with the position. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl (NFL all star game) thirteen times.
Ray was a sensation the minute he hit the league in 1996. By 2000 he was an established super star. Apparently, it went to his head. He hung around with an expensive, outlandish outlaw posse. He was convicted for obstruction of justice in a case involving two murders that occurred in a club he and his crew frequented in Atlanta. Ever since Lewis has carried the stigma of the ill-intentioned, ghetto-grown hoodlum who got away with it because of the wheelbarrows of money he made as a pro athlete.
A good friend I watched the super bowl with told me that he would root for the 49ers because he couldn’t stomach Ray Lewis’ act. That was ok with me since I’ve followed the Niners since shortly after birth, being a Bay Area native, and besides, who wanted to see a gang banger glorified.
Last night I happened to come across a documentary on Lewis on a cable station.
Had I seen it before the game, I might have bet on the Ravens if I were a gambling man. I think I would have been pulling for Ray in any event.
Lewis it seems had found religion back in 2000 when his life hit a nadir. He has chaired bible study meetings with his teammates ever since.
But, that isn’t the lesson Lewis re-enforced for me.
The documentary gathered six former defensive coordinators for the Ravens who had coached Lewis. Each of them, because of their success with the Ravens, were promoted to be head coaches of other teams. Each of them attributed their success to their pupil Lewis.
Mike Singletary, hall of fame linebacker with the Chicago Bears, almost didn’t take the defensive coordinator job in Baltimore. He too only knew of Ray what he had read in the press and heard on the grapevine – an arrogant, spoiled all pro who would be impossible to coach. When he met Lewis for the first time, he was shocked.
Lewis made Singletary promise him that he would teach him everything he knew about the linebacker position, how to be a good teammate, how to be a leader and how to be a better man. Singletary said Lewis set an example for every other player by continuously listening, asking questions, learning and applying what he learned.
All five of the other coaches who were promoted because of Ray had similar things to say about Ray.
What I believe the Ray Lewis story teaches is that if you really want to become the best you can be, you don’t hitch your wagon to one teacher and attempt to emulate him, worship, comply and obey and tune out the rest. Instead, you remain ever curious, ever reaching for new understandings and new heights. I believe the minute you agree to willfully ignore any other teacher but for a chosen one you have in effect made yourself a little more blind, a little more deaf, and ultimately a lot less bright, intelligent and capable.
Is there any reason this does not apply to philosophy, religion, psychotherapy and one’s search for greater spiritual heights?