Say this for Ray Lewis: He's relentless, and it's served him remarkably well.
His nonstop motor as a Baltimore Ravens linebacker for 17 seasons helped him become one of the more prolific tacklers in league history. His tireless pandering to the cameras should have made him a parody. Instead, it made him a coveted personality by NFL rights holders when he retired following the 2012 season.
ESPN landed Lewis with a primo deal that included immediate prominence on "Sunday NFL Countdown" and its "Monday Night Football" on-site pre- and postgame programming. It was fair to wonder, then, whether he was deserving since his history suggested he didn't always pursue truth and justice with his typical vigorousness.
He carried some curious baggage into his second career. Murder charges against Lewis stemming from a January 2000 fight in Atlanta in which two men were stabbed to death were dismissed when he testified against two men who were in his company that night. He ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge.
What has become obvious — never more so than during his shameful performance on yesterday's morning edition of "Sunday NFL Countdown" — is that no matter what you think of Lewis's self-aggrandizement and cloudy past, he lacks every rudimentary quality expected of an analyst.
The list of what he has working for him ends at two: He's a big-name ex-player, and he has an intense charisma. The former is hardly scarce — the NFL pregame show landscape is speckled with semi-charming former stars. And the latter gets old as soon as you realize how phony it is.
Lewis emphasizes and over-enunciates random words. He is addicted to the pregnant pause. He proselytizes to obfuscate. He requires these affectations in a desperate attempt to give his words the weight they lack. It works only on the already converted. He's the same bad actor he ever was.
Bad dancer, too. That's not a reference to his ridiculous look-at-me pregame routine during his playing days, which resembled an enraged squirrel having a conniption after his acorn supply had been stolen. It's a reference to how Lewis responds when challenged, how he clumsily tap-dances around his conflicts of interest and contradictory statements.
The Ravens cut Ray Rice on Sept. 8 after the website TMZ released video of him punching out his then-girlfriend, now-wife, Janay Palmer. When Lewis was asked about the incident that night by Suzy Kolber on ESPN, he categorically dismissed any comparison to his own legal situation 14 years earlier, then went about praising Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti, whom he had talked to earlier that day.
"The reason why Ray Rice will never play for the Ravens again is because when [Steve] saw this video himself, he put his daughter, he put anybody that's connected to him that's a female, he put them in that position,'' Lewis said.
That loyalty to the man who signed his paycheck for so many years left Lewis in a difficult position Sunday. ESPN has delivered some extraordinary journalism in the aftermath of the Rice and Adrian Peterson situations, never more so than after commissioner Roger Goodell's hapless press conference performance Friday.
Reporters Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg dropped a bombshell on the program "Outside The Lines," revealing that the Ravens security director knew the full, ugly details of the Rice incident hours after it occurred. Presented with the information four days before any video of the incident surfaced, Ravens coach John Harbaugh pleaded to release Rice but was overruled by Bisciotti and team president Dick Cass.
Lewis is no stranger to a story with holes. But when asked by Chris Berman what he made of Friday's revelations, he essentially went on a winding four-minute, 361-word speech/filibuster that established only what we already knew: that's he's indebted to the Ravens.
I'm not about to waste time and space here parsing every ridiculous word.
I believe these three quotes give you the gist of just what Lewis brought to ESPN Sunday.
On Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome: "If this incident, what we're dealing with, if they could do this all over again, they would."
Well, sure. That's what everyone who gets caught in their own web of deceit says, right?
Lewis again: "Ray Rice put a lot of people in jeopardy because of his actions. A lot of people in jeopardy. Not just himself. He needs to understand that. Because none of this happens if what happened that night in that elevator don't happen. If I ask anything in this whole thing, I ask, let there be light."
You'd think that would be the most absurd quote, given that the one person put in the most jeopardy, the one who needs light, was the woman Ray Rice punched into darkness. And yet there's this context-free doozy:
But at one point he said: "There's some things you can cover up. And there's some things you can't."
Yes, Ray Lewis actually said that on national television. I'd suggest ESPN should dump him, but he's famous and entertaining and I know that's not going to happen.
So I’ll just wait until he says or does something so offensive that ESPN has no choice. Lewis will have to respect that approach. After all, it’s how his Ravens do things, too.
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.