Athletes find trouble balancing loyalty, fame

In the summer of 2000, Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis did something that many thought, still think and always will think, was stupid.

Though the season hadn’t officially begun yet, he committed a crime that eventually came back to bite him, his family and his team five years later. Lewis pleaded guilty to using his cell phone to help a friend set up a cocaine deal.

Although Lewis didn’t do the brightest thing in the world, there are people who don’t condone it, but understand why he did it.

And I am one of them.

Lewis is just one of many athletes who has had a history with the law. Many people always wonder why athletes who are constantly in the public eye can’t avoid trouble. Although I have no real answer for that, there are justifications.

A lot of athletes come from sub-par situations that don’t provide much opportunity for them to make millions of dollars.

So when they do get a chance to capitalize on a god-given talent, they still know that there are dozens back home who didn’t make it out.

Everyone looks at an athlete like some other guy that got some money and moved on up. Still, many athletes go back to their old neighborhoods. And when they get there, the first thing they hear is, “you got all that money, how come no one sees it or enjoys it but you?”

As a result of such comments, an athlete will most likely go through what I call the MC Hammer effect. This is when a player uses his or her social status or celebrity powers to provide jobs or opportunity for all their people back around the way.

They let friends drive their cars to job interviews where they get speeding or parking tickets.

Or they loan a cousin their mansion while they’re on the road and come back to a party with under-aged drinkers or marijuana paraphernalia and police asking around for the owner of the house. Or one that we all can relate with: a friend asking to use your phone because they don’t have one or they are low on minutes.

Another thing people fail to realize is that many of these millionaire athletes are still young men and women. Though they are legal adults, they are still young and dumb. They make mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. The bad thing for them is that the nation knows about their mistakes. They don’t have the luxury of having the private life that they think they deserve.

Athletes tend to forget they are always in the public eye. Athletes like Allen Iverson, Randy Moss and Kobe Bryant are examples of athletes who have one or two incidents, but continue to picked on by the media or be labeled as “bad boys” months or even years after the fact.

Whether it’s going back to the old neighborhood, having a life that’s constantly broadcast to the public or just being a young, rich athlete, athletes in those situations are likely to have run-ins with the law. Don’t get me wrong, any illegal activity that athletes are either involved with or associated with should be neither tolerated nor condoned by the media or their respective leagues.

But sometimes an athlete can become stuck between the choice of loyalty to friends and being a professional athlete. If they choose their profession they suddenly can’t go back to their old neighborhood because they’re viewed as a sell-out.

If they choose their friends, they’re more than likely to get in trouble with the law or end up back in the hood with their friends – where it all started.

Lewis chose to be a loyal friend. And now he’s getting ready to serve a four-month jail sentence because of his choice.

Arize Ifejika is a junior magazine production student from Silver Spring, Md. Contact him at