Hero or villain? Either way, Lewis has left his mark

I was always a sucker for the hero growing up.

You know, the cowboy who would ride into town in his white hat and drive out the bandits and killers who have been terrorizing the townsfolk? Or the pirate who would swing into action from a rope and clash swords with his evil nemesis? Or the Mountie who would show up ... yeah, I never really rooted for a Mountie, to be honest with you. I always thought they were ...

But I digress.

There was something about the hero that just connected with me. I admired the person who would take on a dastardly foe on behalf of others, and the perfect hero in my eyes always had a resiliency about him or her — that willingness to continue to face adversity and danger despite climbing odds and a bloodied nose.

That fascination led me to always be on the lookout for heroes around me. My father was always one of those heroes to me when I was a little boy, as were our local firefighters and police officers. As I grew older, I began to find myself looking up to those in the armed forces, which probably led to me enlisting in the Marine Corps so many years ago. Looking back, I wish I would have considered my teachers as heroes, but I really saw them as people who gave me homework, and ultimately led to me being grounded more times than a pilot with a drug addiction. It took me years to fully appreciate their efforts.

In an example of a warped sense of values, I did find hereos in sports, with Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray and Ronnie Lott being the individuals who seemed to always stare down the bully and come through in the end. If they came up short, they appeared to do so valiantly, and that earned points with me, as well.

Though I still love sports, I’ve seen enough of Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Len Bias, Roger Clemens and others to become pretty cynical of athletes, and to not invest quite as much emotionally in them as individuals.

Kids, don’t look at these people as role models. Underneath the eye black and helmets, they are regular people, and often exhibit a sense of entitlement that causes them to do things that most in society would consider revolting. Role models? No. Heroes? Yeah, I can still see that.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about here. Ray Lewis has been the face of the Baltimore Ravens franchise since the team moved to Charm City in 1996. From the first time he stepped on the field, there was something special about him. He was a Tasmanian Devil, whirling about and running around and through anybody in his path. He would play through pain that was obvious to anybody watching, and he would not surrender, even when those early Ravens teams were so often beaten soundly.

Then, in January 2000, Lewis was arrested in connection with a double homicide in Atlanta. He eventually plead futility to obstruction of justice for providing a false statement to police, but he immediately went into the binder (see how I did that?) of athletes you would most certainly not want dating your daughter.

Lewis could have gone two ways after that horrific incident. He could have embraced his “thug” image and continued to make disastrous decisions in his life, or he could have tried to straighten out his priorities and make himself into a better man.

He chose the latter.

Lewis has become the “godfather” to many young players throughout the NFL, seeking them out and offering his guidance in turning them into better players and people. He works with disadvantaged youth throughout the Baltimore area, and has continued his Hall of Fame career in a positive way. Does that make up for his poor decisions in his youth? Nope. Not at all. Two men are still dead, and that’s not changing.

However, he has done what he could, under the circumstances, and he has led the Ravens into battle week after week, constantly urging on his teammates to lift them to new heights of play. Is he a hero as an individual? No, but he is an example to how somebody can change the direction of his or her life. Is he a hero on the gridiron? Yeah, I’ll buy that.

Lewis’ recent injury has put his playing career in jeopardy, and its unknown if he will ever play the hero role again on the field. My money is on him returning for one last season next year. That’s what heroes do. They fight again.