I believe in second chances but ...

If nothing else, Manti Te'o's bout with now-you-see-her, now-you-don't offers a cautionary tale for the media and the people it serves: assume nothing.

It's sad. But it's also due diligence in a world where we've suddenly learned the death of a loved one isn't even sacrosanct anymore.

Assume nothing.

This is particularly relevant to the thousands of pundits who will be dispatched to tell the definitive Ray Lewis story in the next 10 days.

Assume nothing.

There is room, believe it or not, for some discourse on the village green about Lewis, away from the terminal cynics who believe he bore a bigger role than obstruction of justice in a murder 12 years ago and the gullible saps who believe he's become Gandhi wearing face paint and shoulder pads.

The cynics and the saps have already made up their minds. But the rest of us who might actually want to be educated? We might like to know: Is Lewis really a changed man?

Let's start here: We should all agree that Lewis, at best, was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people 12 years ago. But we are a country of second chances. I believe in second chances more than I believe in Mariano Rivera.

But I'm not ready to take Lewis' word that he's a changed man. Or the rest of the souls out there who believe Lewis is a changed man because he's found God.

How do we know Lewis has become this new, God-fearing beacon?

Because he quotes scripture during postgame interviews?

How do we know we're not seeing only what Lewis wants us to see?

How do we know he's not putting on a happy face because he wants a job in television upon retirement?

How do we know his life is different than the days when he was hanging out with fellows of more questionable character?

I must say that I sympathize with athletes who get microphones stuck in their faces 30 seconds after an athletic event. Especially by people whose IQ levels rival Thursday's high temperature. Still, Lewis' choice of Isaiah 54:17 "no weapon formed against you shall prosper" in the wake of the Ravens' win in Denver two weeks ago sounded a bit forced.

Maybe that's just me.

How do we know he didn't memorize that just before the game?

Just because you know all the words to scripture doesn't mean you know what they mean.

But that's the task assigned to storytellers this week: dig deep, deeper and deepest to give us an objective look at a polarizing figure. Lewis, quite likely, is neither the man he used to be - the one who obstructed justice - nor a newfound humanitarian. The truth is in between.

But will anyone fortunate enough to spend next week in New Orleans dig deep enough to tell it?

Here's what I know: It's getting harder to know athletes and celebrities in general. They let us see only what they want. Forget getting close to them. It's getting harder to get access. Not just to them, but the people closest to them.

I nearly did a spit take last summer when a close friend of Matt Harvey's said I needed permission from the Mets before he could talk to me. George Orwell must have been giggling somewhere.

But it's through talking to people who know the real story that we serve the readers, viewers and listeners better.

I'm not sure if I believe Ray Lewis is a changed man. But second chances are important stories to tell, especially with celebrities. It sure helps if their stories don't turn out to be fiction.

This is the story of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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