Countdown to Super Bowl XLVII – Ray Lewis a not so great media day

Ray Lewis has become the player to watch heading into the last days before Super Bowl XLVII. Sunday evening when Lewis’ Baltimore Ravens meet the San Francisco 49’ers, more than 100 million will focus much of their attention on the Ravens middle line-backer playing the last game of his Hall of Fame career. Tuesday at Super Bowl media day, Lewis who craves attention on and off a football field, did the best he could to avoid the thousands of media who wanted to ask Lewis about some of the “unfortunate” events in his life.

“Nobody here is really qualified to ask those questions,” Lewis said. “I just truly feel that this is God’s time, and whatever his time is, you know, let it be his will. Don’t try to please everybody with your words, try to make everybody’s story sound right. At this time, I would rather direct my questions in other places. Because I live with that every day. You maybe can take a break from it. I don’t. I live with it every day of my life and I would rather not talk about it today.”

Cowboys VP/PR & Communications Rich Dalrymple working with the NFL Network during media was ‘impressed’ by Lewis’ refusal to answer certain questions: “It is called Media Day and you better be prepared for that question as you’ve been for X-number of years since the incident took place. … I do think he handled it in a pretty effective way.”

The questions that Lewis referred too, a series of tragic events that took place following a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta on January 31, 2000. Lewis attended the game with ‘friends’ before staring in Super Bowl XXXV a year later. But for the grace of God, the events that unfolded at Super Bowl XXXIV nearly ended Lewis’ career before it began.

A fight broke out between Lewis and his companions and another group of people, resulting in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Lewis and two companions, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were questioned by Atlanta police, and eleven days later the three men were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges. The white suit Lewis was wearing the night of the killings has never been found. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard alleged that the bloodstained suit was dumped in a garbage bin outside a fast food restaurant.

Lewis' attorneys, Don Samuel and Ed Garland, of the Atlanta law firm Garland, Samuel & Loeb, negotiated a plea agreement with Howard, the Fulton County District Attorney, where the murder charges against Lewis were dismissed in exchange for his testimony against Oakley and Sweeting, and his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.

Lewis admitted that he gave a misleading statement to police on the morning after the killings. Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner sentenced Lewis to 12 months' probation, the maximum sentence for a first-time offender; and he was fined $250,000 by the NFL, which was believed to be the highest fine levied against an NFL player for an infraction not involving substance abuse.

Ray Lewis knew he would be the focus of attention at media day and knew he would be asked to reflect upon what took place 13 years ago. As a professional, as the de facto Ravens leader, Lewis refusing to deal with an uncomfortable issue on the biggest stage afforded an NFL player was an embarrassment.

Lewis’ behavior at media day was ‘highlighted’ when Lewis was asked about a Sports Illustrated report linking Lewis to the use of a banned substance (deer antler extract) during his recovery after he tore his triceps. Lewis and the Ravens learned of the Sports Illustrated report on their way to the Superdome for their media day appearance.

“Why would I give that any press?

"Two years ago, it was the same report. I wouldn't give that report or him any of my press. He's not worthy of that. Next question," Lewis said.

Lewis has been tested for banned substances, as are all NFL players throughout their NFL careers.

"Ray has been randomly tested for banned substances and has never failed a test. We have never been notified of a failed test. He has never been notified of a failed test," Kevin Byrne, vice president of communications for the Ravens, told ESPN.

"He denied using the substance discussed in the article, and we believe him," Byrne told ESPN.

Bryne raised the best point – Ray Lewis has never once tested positive for anything. While that sounds familiar to statements made time and time again by Lance Armstrong, Ray Lewis’ behavior is an issue. Lewis has worked hard to craft his image off a football field.

If he wasn’t playing in Super Bowl XLVII his post football career working with ESPN would have begun, Ray Lewis would have been one of the 4,000 media people covering Super Bowl XLVII.

"Last month, I did a piece for Sports Illustrated on what current NFL players and coaches are in the eyes of network executives," said Richard Deitsch, media writer for Sports Illustrated in a Baltimore Sun report. "These guys all keep a list of those people they interact with on a weekly basis as to who has really good potential for television, should they decide to go into it and work at it. And every executive I talked to mentioned Ray Lewis ... and had Ray Lewis probably in their top three.

"He's considered to be incredibly charismatic, a great speaker, great communicator and on top of that has incredible name recognition, because he's a first ballot Hall of Famer," Deitsch said. "What I got from everybody was if Ray decided to do this, if Ray was serious about being good at it, the sky's the limit for this guy."

"Ray Lewis has an intensity about him and a way of communicating that is very infectious," CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus told SI. "He is a bigger-than-life personality, very articulate and [has] an incredible passion for the game. If Ray Lewis decided to take that same passion and put it into a broadcasting career, I think he would be a terrific studio analyst or I imagine game analyst, too.

Fox Sports Media group executive producer John Entz echoed McManus. "I see Ray as a guy who would be great in the studio because he is so animated and emotive," Entz said in the Sports Illustrated report. "I think he could fire people up there."

Lewis’ reaction ton controversial issues on the biggest stage at Super Bowl XLVII leaves one to question how Lewis is going to feel when as a retired NFL player he’ll be forced to ask some of the tough questions he was ask and refused to answer on media day.

Will Ray Lewis be able to extend his ESPN career to endorsement opportunities?

"He's got to come out from under the helmet and sort of establish his personality away from the field," said Dr. Stephen McDaniel, who studies sports and entertainment marketing at the University of Maryland in a Baltimore Sun report. "I think he really has what it takes to continue to grow."

David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group and executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute, told the Baltimore Sun now that Lewis playing career is coming to an end, he’ll have to focus on broadening his appeal if he wants to continue to endorse products after his retirement.

"Despite being one of the NFL's greatest players, he hasn't established himself as a national figure beyond hardcore football fans," Carter said. "Being a defensive player and, to a lesser extent, one from a small market, has made it tougher for him to compete with the likes of other NFL superstars in terms of endorsements.

"Of course, he will need to stay out of trouble because, while his alleged involvement in a double murder was a long time ago, that baggage still exists in terms of his marketability," Carter said.

The great saying “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” embarrassingly applied to Ray Lewis on media day. An image Ray Lewis worked to create in the last ten years likely wasn’t touched by his actions on Super Bowl media day, but an important lesson was learned. Lewis is a media savvy 17-year NFL veteran. Ray Lewis is far too polished to have tried to ignore key issues in his life, the lesson that needs to be remembered, be ready, be prepared, be honest and do your best to deal with every and any questions you are asked on Super Bowl media day.

And Lewis’s suggestion that “Nobody here is really qualified to ask those questions,” is ignorant at best, insulting at the least – the 4,000 media onslaught covering Super Bowl XLVII have an obligation to ask questions reporters want to ask, and they are qualified to ask questions at Super Bowl media day.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom