The Baltimore Ravens’ most legendary player is now caught in the middle of two of America’s biggest social controversies: removals of controversial statues, and the ongoing National Anthem protests sweeping the NFL.
A Change.org petition started by Baltimore County’s very own Eric Moniodis that calls for the removal of Ray Lewis’ statue outside of M&T Bank Stadium has now gathered more than 20,000 signatures in just two days. Moniodis’ foot-stomping appeal, directed at franchise owner Steve Bisciotti, reads as follows:
I want the Ray Lewis statue at Ravens Stadium removed because of his refusal to stand during the National Anthem. That song honors our country and our veterans who fought for it. To kneel during it is disrespectful, regardless of what you are protesting. I will not stand for that kind of disrespect towards our country, especially from a legend such as Ray Lewis. You stand for the National Anthem as a solute [sic.] to those who can’t stand because they fought for this land.
To recap, on Friday President Donald Trump appeared at a rally in Huntsville, Ala., and said players like Colin Kaepernick who engage in peaceful protest by kneeling during the National Anthem should be fired.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say: ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out,’” the president uttered.
The NFL didn’t appreciate that much. The league’s commissioner, franchise owners, and players rebuked Trump for his apparent disrespect for players’ First Amendment right to free speech.
Lewis entered the fold with the rest of the Ravens on Sunday, when they played the Jacksonville Jaguars in London. Before the game, Ravens players and their head coach John Harbaugh linked arms during “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a sign of solidarity. While some, including Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Mike Wallace, knelt down on one knee like Kaepernick, Lewis – who was on the field with the team, clad in a sportscoat and jeans – got down on both knees and bowed his head.
Lewis’ involvement was interesting particularly because of the inroads he made with Trump before he entered the White House. The retired linebacker famously gave the president and Vice President Mike Pence bottles of his limited-edition “Ray’s Reserve” bourbon and made time for an in-person meeting with Trump at his offices in New York.
On the topic of Kaepernick, Lewis sparked additional controversy this month by blaming his outspoken radio-show-host girlfriend’s Twitter activity for the Ravens opting not to sign Kaepernick as a backup quarterback this summer. A month before, Nessa Diab had tweeted a photoshopped picture comparing Lewis to Stephen, a loyal slave in “Django Unchained,” and Biscotti to slave master Calvin Candie. Bisciotti at the time had been hesitating to sign Kaepernick for fear of reprisal from fans, and Lewis had shared on Twitter that he thought the former 49er should keep his mouth shut about social issues.
Fast forward to Sunday, and Lewis was right there on the field kneeling in protest of Trump’s words and, possibly by extension, police brutality and systemic racism, issues for which Kaepernick had initially protested.
It wasn’t just National Anthem protectors that were unhappy to see Lewis kneeling. As The Root’s Michael Harriot wrote, Lewis would probably escape the president’s wrath if he were to “call up his homeboy Donald Trump and say that his feet were tired, or that he was momentarily overcome by the need to pray…or that he was simply showing his ex-teammates how he fellated the commander in chief when he paid a visit to him at Trump Towers.”
These are tense times, especially if you’re Ray Lewis. At any rate, Bisciotti issued a statement on Sunday saying he respects his players’ right to free speech. It’s probably safe to assume Lewis’ statue is safe, regardless of how much Eric Moniodis wants it gone.