Baltimore Ravens future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis walked into Super Bowl media day today with the hope of continuing a week long celebration of an illustrious football career that will end, win or lose, once Super Bowl XLVII is finished on Sunday night in New Orleans.
Lewis woke up this morning thinking that the worst that could happen today was that he might be asked to comment about the darkest days of his career when he sat in an Atlanta jail accused of murder. Lewis was wrong if these were his thoughts.
What Lewis was told today must have seemed like déjà vu, sort of.
At some point prior to taking the podium in the Super Dome for Super Bowl media day, Lewis was informed that Sports Illustrated had released a story about him using a ban substance to help during his rehab immediately after tearing his triceps muscle in Week 6 this past season.
According to Sports Illustrated, Lewis tried to obtain deer-antler velvet extract in an attempt to speed the healing for a torn triceps that sidelined him for more than half the season. Deer-antler spray contains IGF-1, which is on the NFL's list of banned substances. Using the spray would be a violation of the NFL's steroids policy.
David Epstein and George Dohrmann wrote the article, which will appear in the Feb 4 issue of SI and is currently available on line. Dohrmann is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist.
At first glance, the SI content appears to be very damaging to Lewis and will likely dampen the final days of what was supposed to be a week of celebration. Celebrating must now give way to denials, and defending actions, which Lewis and the Ravens have already done.
Asked today about the allegations while sitting in his media kiosk in the Super Dome Lewis replied, “Two years ago that was the same report," Lewis said during Tuesday’s media day. "I wouldn't give that report or him any of my press. He's not worthy of that. Next question.”
The “he” Lewis is referring to is Mitch Ross, a former Steroids dealer and male stripper, who owns the company S.W.A.T.S--- Sports with Alternatives to Steroids -- a two-man company run out of the back of a gym near Birmingham, Alabama.
Asked a second time if he could respond to the report, Lewis said, "Not really. Why would I give that any press." Ross appeared on ESPN Radio today with Ryen Ruscillo and Scott Van Pelt and backed up his allegations of Lewis using his product to rehab his triceps injury.
The article is concise and very thorough. Epstein says the timing of the article was already determined. After being reviewed by lawyer’s and fact checkers, the magazine picked this week. Epstein told Jim Rome today “They didn’t expect the Ravens to still be playing”.
According to the article, the reporters witnessed a videotaped call from Lewis to Ross, who asked for his product. This was hours after Lewis suffered the injury. The following is an account of what Epstein and Dohrmann witnessed on that call.
"It's bottom, near the elbow," Lewis said of the tear. After asking a few pseudo diagnostic questions, Ross concluded, "All right, well this is going to be simple. . . . How many pain chips you got around the house?"
"I got plenty of them," Lewis replied. Ross prescribed a deluxe program, including holographic stickers on the right elbow; copious quantities of the powder additive; sleeping in front of a beam-ray light programmed with frequencies for tissue regeneration and pain relief; drinking negatively charged water; a 10-per-day regimen of the deer-antler pills that will "rebuild your brain via your small intestines" (and which Lewis said he hadn't been taking, then swallowed four during the conversation); and spritzes of deer-antler velvet extract (the Ultimate Spray) every two hours.
"Spray on my elbow every two hours', Lewis asked.
"No," Ross said, "under your tongue."
Toward the end of the talk, Lewis asked Ross to "just pile me up and just send me everything you got, because I got to get back on this this week."
Ross says he provided the products free of charge. He even trotted out a novel S.W.A.T.S. technology for the star client: undergarments -- black with Lewis's name and number in -purple -- drenched in pungent menthol liquid that Key and Ross exposed to radio waves. All Ross wanted in return, he told Lewis, is for the future Hall of Famer to tell the truth -- that he used S.W.A.T.S. products -- when he returned to the field.
Lewis went through a similar self-inflicted situation this time of the year in 2001. The darkest days of his career came in the wee hours of the morning following Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. Lewis and a group of people partying with him got into a fight outside an Atlanta nightclub in the Buckhead district of the city and as a result, two men were stabbed and killed during the fight by members of Lewis party.
Originally charged with two counts of murder, Lewis struck a deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony against two of the men with him that night. A Fulton County jury acquitted Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting of killing Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker.
Lewis received the only conviction in the case, obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor. Just 24 years old when that occurred, Lewis immediately began to rebuild his career.
The following year he played in the Super Bowl and instead of partying with bad influences when the game ended, Lewis hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy on the winner’s podium in Tampa Bay as Super Bowl MVP.
Prior to the game and during Super Bowl week, the Ravens did their best to protect Lewis from the thousands of media members. Then Ravens head coach Brian Billick proclaimed when the team arrived for Super Bowl week that “They (the media) weren’t going to retry the case, they weren’t qualified”. Arrogant in his approach, Lewis and the rest of the team followed Billick’s example. Ravens tight end Shannon Sharper stood over Lewis’ shoulder the entire week and protected him from the media and their questions.
When asked about it on media day, Lewis gave a head scratching response. "Yes I got money. Yes, I'm black and yes, I'm blessed," Lewis told the crowd. "But at the same time, let's find out the real truth. The real truth is [this] was never about those two kids that's dead in the street. This is about Ray Lewis."
Lewis had the stats and credentials on the field to begin a comeback with his reputation but it would take time. He has spent the past 12 years trying to rebuild his image, one that did not allow him to say he was going to Disney World when he won the SB MVP.
Considered one of the greatest linebackers of all-time, if not the greatest, Lewis has certainly pulled off one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of sports.
Twelve years later, he is considered a role model, a team leader, a man known for his hard work on the field and his charitable work off it. Lewis proclaims himself a man of God and is one of the spiritual leaders in the Ravens locker room. In case you were not paying attention to his post-game interviews and press conferences, Lewis can be heard frequently quoting Biblical verses.
To further put into perspective how successful Lewis’ comeback has been, all you have to do is click on the two separate Wikipedia pages of Lewis and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. In the opening paragraph of Vick's, it mentions his notorious episode of dog-killing. In Lewis' opening paragraph, it chronicles his Pro Bowls, his Super Bowl MVP, even the torn triceps that kept him sidelined for much of this season. But there is not a single mention of the fact that he once was charged with murdering two men.
Lewis has appeared on the cover of the popular football video game Madden and is once again their main spokes player in a series of commercials this season. He was seen last year flying on a horse in Old Spice commercials. In other words, Lewis made it back and did so faster and further than anyone could have imagined after he walked into an Atlanta courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit 13 years ago.
However, what occurred today during Super Bowl media day could possibly bookend Lewis career with controversy and now No.52 is out of time to help restore his image. There is a chance that the next 48-96 hours could tarnish his legacy.
Throughout the course of the Ravens 2012-13-playoff run, Lewis has had his fair share of detractors. Many people have tired of the preaching and what seems to be choreographed kissing the field moments, like the one he provided about 100 cameramen following the Ravens AFC Title victory in New England.
He even irked the wife of Patriots receiver, Wes Welkers. After the Patriots' loss, Anna Burns Welker issued the following post on Facebook, "Proud of my husband and the Pats. By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis' Wikipedia page. 6 kids 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay! What a hall of fame player! A true role model!"
When asked how he felt about her comments on Monday following the teams arrival, I've always been a firm believer of the Good Book, and the Good Book always confirms, even a fool is counted wise until he opens he or she mouth, “And sometimes people just say silly stuff. And they say it out of emotion. And sometimes you need to let the game take care of the game.
Lewis finished by saying, “ We lost up there last year, and I didn't hear one teammate say anything about nobody there because we have respect for that team, that they won it fair and square. So for her to come out and say what she said, listen, I truly forgive her, and I have no hard feelings against her at all, but I believe people just make mistakes and say foolish things sometimes."
This has obviously taken over the Super Bowl in the Big Easy. Before today, QB Joe Flacco delivered the biggest blunder spoken by a Ravens player when he used the word “retarded” to express how he felt about an outdoor Super Bowl in a cold weather climate next February.
Flacco apologized for his poor choice of word and moved on with his media day session. Lewis was also able to move on, but it will not be so easy for him to do so the rest of the week.
CBS Radio talk show host Jim Rome compared Lewis and the Ravens response to the allegations and denials to the highly unpopular former seven time Tour De France winner, Lance Armstrong.
The Ravens said Lewis has never failed a drug test. The controversial Rome was quick to point out that Armstrong was always quick to point out that fact as well. Rome said, “Not having a positive drug test doesn’t mean you didn’t use performance enhancing drugs, it just means you never tested positive”.
The bottom line is that the NFL has always been a “Win if you can, lose if you must but always cheat”, type of league. Every player on both sides of the ball is always looking for an edge. While using a PED is different, don’t they say, “Holding and pass interference happen on every play”?
The average price of a Super Bowl ticket is $1,200 this year. Travel packages start at $10,000 to enjoy the week in person. The NFL makes money as fast as the treasury prints it.
The NFL helped rebuild the image of Ray Lewis and Lewis apparently did everything he could not to let his employers down as the league hit the post season. Allegedly using the PED to get back on the field was not news to the NFL today. If you do not think SI called the league office for comment while doing this story, you’re as blind as the league is going to be the rest of this week.
Lewis’ image was everywhere this post season. If we have learned anything in a season that seems to be all about player safety and bounties, it is that the league is filled with hypocrisy, starting with Commissioner Roger Goodell.
His play this post season has been inspiring to watch and in no way does any of this change my opinion of Ray’s efforts. I’m sure the NFL has made a few dollars off the return of Lewis and continues to watch one of their cash cows rake it in this week.
Personally, I am not a big fan of Ray Lewis the man. There is some truth to what Mrs. Welker wrote on her FB page, but it was not her place to write it. It is kind of like not allowing an outsider to pick on a sibling, only you are allowed to do that. You cannot call my baby ugly, but I can.
The preaching and Bible thumping Lewis spews does seem fake to me at times. However, what seems real is his passion for the game and how he plays it. That is what I believe his teammates feed on. Ray Lewis is a great motivational speaker but he is not for everyone. How he plays the game is what inspires his teammates to play harder and the fans to watch.
Ray Lewis is not perfect, and he is not the man he likes to quote so often. This will certainly add to the controversial aspects of his career but he is likely to recover just as did 12 years ago.
The Ravens may thank Sports Illustrated when the big game is over on Sunday. They are, for third time in four games this post-season, underdogs. Being double-digit underdogs the last two weeks has fueled the fire of this football team. However, all of the excitement surrounding Super Bowl week seems to have shifted a ferocious us against the world focus to embracing the fun and enjoying the moment in New Orleans.
No other team in the NFL pulls together as the Ravens do when the chips are down and they have been down a lot at times this season. Whether it was the death of Art Modell and Torrey Smith's brother, the loss of Lewis and Lardarius Webb to injury, or the firing of Cam Cameron, this team has always responded and responded well.
If you are looking for a difference between the Harbaugh brothers, this may be it. John seems to be a little better at getting his team to band together in tough times, or at least he has more experience at it and that could be the intangible that gives the Ravens enough of an edge during the final game of an intangible filled playoff run.
As for Lewis, his team is watching, the world is watching. How he handles the next three days could determine how the world perceives his image and if this is indeed his final game, how smoothly of a transition his retirement is.
In the end, will it really even matter when it comes to the NFL? Will anybody really care that Ray Lewis used Deer Antler extract? Do you really even care what any of them use as long as they take the field?
The answer is you probably don't because this happens all the time, and no matter what, we still watch and we will still attend.
An NFL game was No.1 every week in the Nielsen Ratings for all 17 weeks of the regular season this year. The proof is in the numbers. Truth is, Lewis is probably guilty as hell of using a PED to get back on the field, and we all know it---But I cannot wait to watch him do his dance as he takes the field on Sunday for what is likely to be one fired up Ravens team.
Please be sure to join me every night this week on the FANSPEAK RADIO NETWORK as, yours truly and Stephen Shoup bring you the SUPER BOWL SHOW. Steve and I will have all of the day events as well as all of the interviews to match analysis and insight provided on the the Big Game.
Showtimes are 8:30 until 10:30 and you can email the show at firstname.lastname@example.org. and follow me on Twitter @zlotsports, or #FANSPEAK.