Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis speaks during an NFL Super Bowl XLVII football news conference on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in New Orleans. / Patrick Semansky, AP
While much of the world is focused on what one newspaper has called "sibling revelry" at this year's Super Bowl, of more interest is what will be happening on the field, especially in the workings of Ray Lewis' mind in his final game of a hall-of-fame career. The fact that two brothers are coaching each of the participants in this year's game is a remarkable story. But the ongoing redemption of Ray Lewis ‚?? and the hypnotic trance he creates for himself and his teammates -- may be even more remarkable.
Lewis, a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, began his efforts at salvation during the 2000 season after having been implicated in two murders in Atlanta in the early morning hours of January 31, 2000, shortly after that year's Super Bowl. Later the charges were dropped. and Lewis was sentenced to one-year's probation and then fined $250,000 by the NFL.
The following year, in training camp, one of the older leaders of the Ravens, Shannon Sharpe, took Lewis aside and told him that the only way to redeem himself was to perform in an extraordinary fashion on the field -- to hope that people might forgive and forget what happened months earlier after seeing his achievements on the field.
Lewis proceeded to have one of the greatest seasons as a linebacker in the history of professional football. He was all over the field - making tackles, intercepting passes, and recovering fumbles. His season culminated in a blow-out victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, 34-7.
How did Lewis and his team achieve such heights? The same question was asked by Leo Tolstoy in his epilogue to "War and Peace," in looking at how some armies, even undermanned ones, still achieve victory.
The answer may come from Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer was the Google of the 18th century, one of the first names or nouns that became a verb. Just as we might google in the 21st century, people in 18th century Europe became mesmerized. In 1779 in his Dissertation on the Discovery of Animal Magnetism, Mesmer hypothesized that human beings were endowed with a special magnetic fluid, a kind of sixth sense, which when liberated could produce near-miraculous effects, healing and otherwise. Until controversy and charges of quackery curtailed his career, Mesmer claimed to have magnetized and cured hundreds of patients.
Had Mesmer been able to see something, this magnetic fluid, that none of the rest of us have been able to see? No one knows. We have all seen the following phenomenon, however: a force that allows an athletic team to be beautifully synchronized so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so that the team can achieve more than anyone could have expected.
With hypnosis the hypnotic suggestion is more valuable than the trance itself. The key to Lewis' success is not just his talent but the profound suggestion offered by Shannon Sharpe at a time when, we may assume, Lewis was most vulnerable, open and suggestible.
Now at the end of his career -- Lewis has announced he will retire after this Super Bowl -- Lewis has passed on a hypnotic state to his teammates. His working himself into an epic hypnotic trance before each game is a thing to behold. His passing on his wisdom and his calm ‚?? and at the same time, aggressive ‚?? confidence to his younger colleagues is likewise a thing to behold.
The Ravens entire team, from coaches on down to players, seemingly has bought into Lewis' redemption. "Don't make the same mistakes I've made," he often points out. His teammates, many of whom like Michael Oher (of The Blind Side fame) come from deprived backgrounds, have taken his message to heart. This is not just a game, Lewis suggests. No, this is your whole life and your own redemption and salvation at stake.
Too much pressure to bear? Perhaps. But every college coach in any sport knows that senior leadership, not just talent, is vital for any post-season success. Lewis epitomizes that senior leadership.
He also epitomizes one of the most peculiar paradoxes of life: Evil deeds and good works are inextricably intertwined. Efforts at redemption may not undo harms done; but their power is enough to make any latter-day Mesmer -- and football fans this coming Sunday ‚?? take notice.
Paul Steinberg is a writer and psychiatrist living in Washington DC.
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