Linebacker Ray Lewis, who was accused of murder and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in the deaths of two men, has given inspirational speeches to groups including a Florida youth swim club.
The Wall Street Journal
It’s the first day of fall soccer for my daughter’s team and as always I’m having a hard time getting the girls motivated at the beginning of the season. There’s a week to go before school starts so they’re still in vacation mode, but I remind them of the promise we made to ourselves at the end of spring soccer earlier this year; that we’d make it to Disney World for a U-11 girls soccer tournament this season or bust an ACL trying.
We came a long way last year, breaking .500 with a 7-5 record for the first time since I started coaching Kinder Kick. Still, we have an uphill climb just to stay in the same place, if that’s not too illogical: Needham has Emily Neidermeyer, who made the local sports highlights with her “bicycle” kick to win the Goblins ’n Goals Fun ‘n Gun tournament, Waltham is returning three starters, Natick–home of Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie–is loaded as always.
I know I need a little something extra to get the girls geared up for a long, tough campaign, so I’ve reached out to Ray Lewis, linebacker-motivational speaker-accused murderer for his help lighting a fire under fourteen little fannies grown flabby from sitting in air conditioned comfort all summer.
“That’s Mr. Lewis, and that’s his probation officer.”
“Girls,” I say and everyone quiets down except for my little daughter Daphne–the cobbler’s kids go without shoes, and the coach’s kid talks to her friend after the whistle. “Hey–there’s only one coach on this team,” I say, trying to instill in them a respect for authority that I neglected to acquire as a freshman basketballer hailed by my teammates for my drop-dead perfect imitation of our coach with an Elmer Fudd speech impediment.
“Why is that man yelling?”
“A few announcements,” I say as Lewis tiptoes up behind the girls, holding his finger to his mouth to make the “Shh!” gesture. “Our practice tomorrow is moved to Babson Park, okay,” and I get looks of indifference; their mothers drive them everywhere so they don’t need to know this. “Emily’s mom can’t bring oranges because she’s throwing a dinner party so can somebody else volunteer?”
One little girl puts her hand up. “Great, Meghan, thanks,” I say. “I’ll put your mom down for refreshments.”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” she says to clarify. “We already did oranges once.”
“Fine–I’ll do it again,” I say. I always get some crappy gift at the end of the season from the other parents–like a UNICEF necktie that I’m embarrassed to wear to the office–but it doesn’t make up for my out-of-pocket expenses when I have to pick up the slack for families who use me as an unpaid baby-sitter.
“Okay, girls, listen up. I’ve invited a very special person to talk to you today about competition and good sportsmanship,” I say as Lewis ambles up beside me, anticipating a shock of recognition that never comes. “He’s Mr. Ray Lewis, who was the most valuable player of Super Bowl X-X-X-V . . .”
“What does that mean?” Courtney Phalwell asks.
“It means 35, but Super Bowls are major historical events, so you use Roman numerals to count them. Anyway, Mr. Lewis is a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, only the sixth player to win multiple times, so if you don’t know him your daddies probably do. He is an inspiring motivational speaker, so please give a warm Metrowest Girls Soccer welcome to . . . Ray Lewis!
The girls clap politely but without enthusiasm. One takes out her iPhone–it’s nicer than the shopworn PDA I get through work–and starts tapping away.
“Hey everybody–’sup?” Lewis asks with an ingratiating if slightly ghetto manner. “How’s everybody doin’ today?”
A few girls say “fine,” but so softly it’s hard to hear them.
“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” Lewis shouts, and the girls get the message.
“We’re FI-INE,” they say in the sing-song manner they normally reserve for classroom visits by their principal.
“Thass better,” Lewis says as he rolls up his sleeves, revealing a tangled web of gangsta tattoos that draws curious stares. “You know–you can’t accomplish nothin’ in life without enthusiasm!”
A prim woman in a cable-knit cardigan–Tori Fleming’s mom–clears her throat and speaks. “You can’t accomplish anything in life without enthusiasm,” she says, correcting Lewis’s English.
“Thass what I said, woman!” Lewis snaps at her. “Don’t interrupt when the spirit is movin’ me!”
The woman recoils in fright, not used to the pitbull-like tone of the man who was only the fifth linebacker taken in the 1996 NFL draft, but who is now considered a lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“Unlest you gonna be takin’ off your shirt like that Brandi Chastain did,” he says with a leer, perhaps realizing that he will have many years of motivational speaking ahead of him after he retires from football.
The grade school girls aren’t old enough to remember that stirring victory celebration, so Lewis gets no reaction to his laugh line. “WHO among you has a goal this year?” Lewis shouts, challenging them the way he has done to so many other underachieving amateur sports teams, from Elon University’s football team to the Loyola men’s lacrosse team.
My little Daphne gingerly raises her hand. She’s got that trip to Florida on the brain.
“Yeah, you–over there,” Lewis snaps.
“My dad promised we could go to Disney World if we qualified for the tournament.”
Lewis is silent for a moment; one of the great sorrows of his life is that he didn’t get to utter the “I’m going to Disney World!” line after he was named Super Bowl MVP. Something about a guilty plea to obstruction of justice charges.
“Thass what I’m talkin’ ’bout!” Lewis fairly shouts after he recovers. “Now you got somethin’ to work towards–and you know what?”
“What?” Daphne asks.
“I got the feelin’–this is YOUR TIME!” Lewis shouts, and several of the girls erupt in cheers.
“We’re going to Disney World!” Tori Fleming squeals.
“Hold on a minute,” Lewis says, his face taking on an ominous cast. “It’s only your time . . . if you can GRAB IT BY THE THROAT!”
The girls exchange looks that make clear the great linebacker’s teaching runs counter to what they’ve learned at home and on the soccer pitches of the upscale zipcodes we play in.
“Here,” Lewis says to our goalie Caitlin Plank, “throw me the ball.” She does as instructed, exhibiting the proper overhead delivery, and Lewis takes off running.
“I just intercepted you . . . come on, catch me!” He zigzags down the field but no one follows. “Whassa matta with you all?”
“You’re not allowed to pick up the ball and run with it,” Courtney Phalwell replies.
“Who sez? You gotta create your own destiny!” Lewis shouts, and I’m forced to intervene.
“This is soccer, Mr. Lewis,” I say and not too loudly, not wanting to have the mouth-of-hell force of his fury directed at me.
“Oh–well why didn’t somebody tell me?” Lewis says. “Anyway, it don’t matter whether you pick up the ball or not. What you gotta understand is–you have to get pissed off for greatness!”
Tori Fleming’s mother clears her throat again and gives me the hairy eyeball. I realize I’d better get things under control–she’s been known to report coaches to the league commissioner for ticky-tacky violations such as not wearing a collared shirt to practices. She’s on the rules committee at her country club.
“Uh, Ray–may I call you Ray?”
“You can call me anything you want long as you don’t call me when my girlfriend’s over,” Lewis says with a broad smile.
“Perhaps you can wrap things up with a life lesson for the girls.”
“Sure, sure. Okay, let’s see, your coach gave me your schedule, so I’m gonna run down your opponents the way I want you to run ‘em down this season,” he says, and he gives the girls a wild surmise like the men of Cortez in Keats’ “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.”
Keats: “Who the hell is Ray Lewis?”
“Newton? I want you to make ‘em into a futon.”
The girls make little moues with their mouths, not sure where this is going.
“Wellesley? I say to hellesley.”
The girls start to giggle nervously, knowing this is a “swear” that their mothers forbid them to use.
“Natick? I got no word to rhyme with them, so just kick they asses!”
There is an eruption now, as the girls begin to rock in rhythm to Lewis’s preacher-like cadences.
“And Needham? I want you to eat ‘em!” Lewis shouts, then spies a doll in the hands of Courtney Phalwell’s little sister. “Gimme that Barbie doll!” he yells.
“It’s Skooter,” the little girl says as she clutches the toy closer, but Lewis has it out of her hands before she can stop him. He pops it in his mouth, bites off the head and spits it out.
Skooter: “Off with her head!”
“Thass what I want you to do to Needham! Okay?”
By now a few more mothers have assembled around the seated girls, a bit concerned by the spectacle they’ve seen progress as they watched from their cars along the sideline. I figure it’s time to tone things down a bit.
“Uh, thanks, Ray, that was . . . uh . . . great–right girls?”
“Yeah!” Courtney Phalwell exclaims, obviously elated at her little sister’s loss. “She stole my allowance to buy that doll!”