• Thomas A. Wilson

Happy Birthday, Ray Lewis

As a student of authentic manhood, I’m fascinated by great men from ancient literature who had run-ins with the law. Moses was one such person. He was guilty of homicide, then he went on the lam. Joseph was an incarcerated accused rapist. David was a murdering co-conspirator. Daniel was guilty of crimes against the state. Peter, too, was jailed. So was Paul. From Jeremiah to Jesus, it isn’t hard to get arrested.

With deep respect to our brothers in blue, the ones who protect, I’d like to point out something about American culture. We like having rules. (Maybe we don’t follow the rules all that well, though—we incarcerate a startling number of people.) For example, look at the number of different organizations that enforce. There are city police, county sheriffs and deputies, FBI agents, NCIS agents, ATF agents, ICE agents, Secret Service agents, game wardens, campus police, and United States Park Police, to name a few. Other police organizations include the DEA, US Marshals Service, Coast Guard, Texas Rangers, The United State Capitol Police, and many more. Even the railroad has its own police force—with arrest authority. That’s a lot of cops. And I haven’t even begun to list things like mall security, truant officers, animal control, neighborhood watch, building inspectors, and homeowners associations. By gum, we’re a people concerned with compliance!

As I develop the ideas behind this blog, let me be clear. I hate crime. I hate victimization. It makes me sick. I’m quick to point out to the incarcerated men that I work with, if they ask, exactly what I think of their crime. But I’m also aware that some are innocent (like Joseph, above), some are deeply repentant (like David, above), and some were set up (like Daniel, above). Furthermore, since I’ve given over two decades of my life to corrections, I’m keenly aware that if a police officer polices, then a correctional officer… corrects, right? What good is it to catch a bunch of fish if you don’t clean them. (The last sentence is a bit of prison humor—new arrivals in prison are called fish. Some suggest the name comes from new arrivals looking like fish out of water.) I am a fisher of men. I catch, and I clean. Put another way, I’m not interested in being soft on crime. And I’m not interested in being hard on crime, either. I’d interested in being smart on crime. That’s why I wrote Man School.

Ray Anthony Lewis is another person of renown who got into trouble with the law. Sports fans will recognize the name. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is arguably the greatest middle linebacker to ever play in the National Football League. Two-time Super Bowl champion, thirteen-time pro-bowler, ten-time all-pro, he was inducted into the Hall of fame on his first year of eligibility. Like the men listed above, Lewis is also a person of faith—and that makes the blemish in his story all the more compelling.

He was raised in a violent home, and his mother suffered severe physical abuse from the man who was supposed to provide, the man who was supposed to protect. Ray watched helplessly. He determined, as he grew, that he would someday be strong enough to intervene. As a child, Ray found a deck of playing cards and made a game of strength conditioning. He would turn over a card and then do the number of pushups that corresponded to the value of the card. Face cards had a value of ten, aces twenty-five, and jokers were fifty. Young Mr. Lewis would work through the deck. (Later, in the NFL, his player number would be number 52!) After he gained strength doing pushups, he then used the same method for sit-ups. And he did get strong. Ray would later declare that sports competition was just an indirect benefit—he had much deeper motivation. Lewis also learned a lesson. He learned that there’s glory on the other side of pain.

Ray’s legal troubles began when he made a spur of the moment decision to be less than transparent with the police. A late-night altercation turned ugly and two men ended up dead in a parking lot. Lewis lied to law enforcement about his role in the nasty affair. Initially, he denied being at the scene, but he later admitted that, in fact, he was there. Ray claimed that he tried to be a peace-maker.

His two acquaintances were charged with homicide—and were later acquitted. The jury found the episode to be one of self-defense. So, the only crime that night was Ray’s misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. He was given a year’s probation, paid a quarter of a million dollar fine to the National Football League, and settled for an undisclosed amount of money with the families of the two men that died. The biggest hit, though, was the hit to his reputation.

If you’ve read Man School, then you know that I often look at the etymology, or origins, of words. It’s a habit. In the faith system to which I adhere, Deity chose to nickname his Son, The Word. So, I’m in love with language—it reminds me of the most important Person in my life. What’s this got to do with Ray Anthony Lewis? Well, I looked up the meaning of his names.

Ray is short for Raymond, and Raymond means wise protector. His middle name, Anthony, is derived from Antonius, a name that came to signify Roman Generals. Lewis derives from two words that mean victory in the games. So, Ray Lewis’s full name literally means: wise-protector-general-victorious-in-the-games. If you’re not a football fan, and you don’t know what a linebacker does, he plays defense—he protects his team’s goal line. None have done it better than team captain Lewis. He was a General of the gridiron. It might be just a coincidence, but Lewis fulfilled the destiny hidden in his earthly name. Interesting. For those that want it, regardless of their current moniker, they can get a new name—and along with it, a new destiny.

All this ancient history, recent history, and wordsmithing has a point. Ray Lewis and other formerly jailed or imprisoned men are not necessarily defined by their worst moments. Lewis is more than the man who made the wrong call on that dark night. His detractors, mostly uninformed, continue to hurl accusations and insults. But they don’t know Ray Lewis.

That’s the price of admission if you’re going to live an authentic life—just ask King David about Doeg the Edomite. Doeg, a detractor, had a lot to say—but he eventually met justice. If you’re interested in some ancient wisdom literature, read Psalm fifty-two. David wrote it after Doeg ran his mouth. Even during calamity, authentic men get the last laugh. And that’s good news for Lewis and anybody else who chooses righteousness the rest of the way.

Ray Lewis’ birthday is May 15. Happy birthday, Ray.


Times of testing can induce fear, despondency, rage, and escapism. Humans are hard-wired to fight, flee, and satisfy themselves when in discomfort. Standing in the pain, then, maintaining control, is intrinsic to resilience. When we take the pain and re-channel it toward a goal, we transform the episode into an asset.

Affirmation of the Week: I quickly recover from setbacks by channeling my energy toward positive emotions. I love being aware of—and managing—my feelings as an expression of authentic manhood.

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