Friday, March 15, 2013

Would Ray Lewis Have a Job on ESPN If....?

Former Ravens great, Ray Lewis (Larry French/Getty Images)

It was officially announced this week that Ray Lewis will be joining ESPN next season. As a football fan, I'm not sure how much football analysis Ray Lewis will add to a network that's already pretty light on actual analysis and more heavy on personalities. Lewis is certainly a personality and that's probably why he was hired. Love him or hate him, and there's few people in between, enough people will watch either way.

I have a rather complicated view of Ray Lewis. On one hand, as a football fan, I think he and Lawrence Taylor are the two best linebackers I've ever seen. And Lewis may be the last of a dying breed of every-down, inside/middle linebackers in an increasingly pass-first league. I enjoyed watching Lewis play for many years. And when it comes to what happened on January 31, 2000 in Atlanta, I do feel the truth is probably closest to the story Ray Lewis has told over the years.

But here's another thought on Ray Lewis. Could you imagine Ray Lewis having any chance of getting a very high-profile TV job on the nation's #1 sports network had he been charged with another major crime against anyone of any nature except the murder/manslaughter of two young black males? In any other scenario wouldn't some interest group be protesting the hiring? Even if you accept the scenario where Lewis was just present at the scene of the crime, helped his friends cover up the crime, and then obstructed the investigation, that is still a lot of baggage for any major network to take on, unless....

If the victims were white, would he be on TV? Maybe. But if his victims were white, there's probably a good chance he and his two friends would be in jail right now, based on the much higher arrest, prosecution, and conviction rates of black on white crime vs. black on black crime.

If he was involved in any sort of domestic violence toward a female, child, or pet, there's very little chance he'd be on TV.  If he had been involved in a sexual assault or a DUI that killed someone, there's little chance he'd be on TV.

Young black males are the most invisible demographic group to the rest of mainstream America. That's why it was such a notable positive development last year when the Trayvon Martin case received so much attention. The unemployment rate among young black males is a national embarrassment for our country, yet it is almost never discussed, as if it doesn't exist. It's a problem no one in power really has an incentive to solve because this demographic group is practically invisible. And when the media does shine a light on this invisible group it is usually in the context of athletics, entertainment, or crime.

Lewis should get credit for the positive impact he's made on people's lives since that night and for turning his own life around, but ultimately his turnaround and career trajectory since then can be attributed more to the demographics of the victims in the incident than anything else.

So as ESPN Magazine might put it, what if the victims in the incident were white?

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