The 2017 National Football League Hall of Fame class is certain to include Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Earlier this week, Lewis announced he would retire after the Ravens 2012 season ends. The Ravens meet Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts Sunday afternoon at Baltimore’s M&T Stadium as part of the NFL’s wild-card playoff weekend.
Drafted by the Ravens in 1996, he has played his entire career for the team, and is the last player remaining from the Ravens' inaugural season. He has been selected to thirteen Pro Bowls and been named an Associated Press All-Pro ten times. He won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003; he was the sixth player to win the award multiple times. He was also the second linebacker to win the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award and the first linebacker to win the award on the winning Super Bowl team.
Off the field an incident that took place following a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta on January 31, 2000 brings into question Lewis’ on-field Hall of Fame career. 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.
Lewis has lived a remarkable life during the 12 years that followed the Atlanta Super Bowl incident. An on field warrior in the truest sense, can what took place a dozen years ago be forgiven?
"If you remember, that was quite a hit (speaking of the fine)," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello in an ESPN report. "To see where he is today is remarkable. I would say it's a rather amazing comeback and rehabilitation of an image."
Kevin Byrne, the Ravens vice president of public and community relations and has been with the franchise since 1981, when it was still in Cleveland, has been with Lewis through every step of his Ravens career.
"When we talked immediately afterward, he was bitter and angry the way it had been covered," Byrne told ESPN. "We said, 'Ray, the reason we supported you from Day One and believed in you is because we know you. You need to show the world who you are, rise above it, so to speak, and that's exactly what he did.'"
Lewis off-field incident took place two and a half months after former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth was charged with the murder of Cherica Adams, who at the time of her death was eight months pregnant with Carruth's child. In 2001, he was found guilty of conspiring to murder.
While Lewis was never convicted of murder, it became easy for the media to connect Lewis and Carruth given the two murders took place at the same time and they both involved active NFL players.
"He's so deeply religious I think it matters to him less than people might think," Byrne said of Lewis. "He's a big believer in God's will. He says, 'God put me in that prison for 10 days for a reason. There's a reason my kids saw me in an orange jump suit with my hands cuffed. There's a reason I tore my hamstring in 2005. There's a reason I tore my triceps.' His legacy, I don't think it consumes him. He is one who says, 'The best you can do is the best you can do.'"
Thursday, Sports Illustrated reported ESPN is set to hire Ray Lewis as an NFL analyst as soon as his playing career ends.
"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."
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."
Ray Lewis embodies what an NFL player is, the “ultimate warrior” a competitor who is relentless in succeeding, an example to his teammates. Several of Lewis’ legendary speeches were showcased in The NFL Network’s profile of Lewis in their award winning series “A Football Life”. A pregame speech Lewis gave to the Stanford men's basketball team prior to an NIT game in March has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube; Stanford won the tournament. His eulogy for former Ravens owner Art Modell convinced ESPN to dedicate a segment to his speeches, which showed him giving a talk to members of the Elon football team while a vicious thunderstorm raged outside the locker room.
"When you see his intensity, his focus, his ability to build team spirit, I don't think there are five motivational speakers I'd put in front of Ray Lewis," said Matt Mirchin, Under Armour's senior vice president of sports marketing in a Baltimore Sun report (Lewis has worked with Under Armour since 2005).
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.
Carter raises important issues, nevertheless everyone in life deserves a second chance, and it’s what you make of that second chance life offers you that often define you as a person. The white suit Lewis allegedly wore that fateful night in January 2000 will forever remain a mystery. What is certain in Ray Lewis life, since that terrible evening Ray Lewis has lived a life well worth respecting both on and off the football field.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom