If I asked who is the greatest linebacker in the history of the NFL, I would get a hundred different responses. But there is one man who I guarantee would be very high on the list: Ray Lewis. The Ravens, Baltimore and the number 52 have become synonymous with this man. Most people either love him or hate him, but no one can deny that his 17-year career has been exceptional.
The individual accolades for his talent range from Super Bowl MVP to 10-time Pro Bowler. The only remaining active player from the 1996 draft, Lewis has become one of the most well-known linebackers inNFL history and is the cornerstone of the Ravens defense. He has sparked comeback after comeback by being a leader on the field and in the locker room, while punishing offenses with the same force as he had 17 years ago.
Look at Lewis today and he is a public relations dream: commercial endorsements, motivational speeches to teams around the country and coming back from a tricep injury in time for a playoff run that has landed the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII this Sunday, Feb. 3.
However, 13 years ago this PR dream was actually a nightmare. Lewis was arrested in conjunction with the murder of two men at an Atlanta nightclub. He eventually pled guilty to obstruction of justice and testified against the two men he was with at the club. While this situation leads to arguments between most people about whether he got off easy or if he was actually involved at all, one thing is certain — it changed the entire course of his career and the publicity he and the Baltimore Ravens received.
I’m sure the Ravens’ crisis management team went into overdrive, but that’s what we, as public relations professionals, have been trained for, right? It’s not the ideal situation to be in, but the very next season, the Ravens went on to win Super Bowl XXXV and Ray Lewis was named MVP. What better publicity could you ask for after a crisis?
In an article posted by the New York Times, Lewis talked about the moment it all changed in the courtroom before a judge. He left behind the stereotypical professional athlete life and embraced community service, impacting the lives of young people so they don’t walk down the same path he did.
His teammates now praise him as a mentor, the father of the team, and are quick to defend the man he has become today. Since his arrest, he has started a foundation in Baltimore, and the city has become known for his work. Likewise, Lewis is recognized for his giving and community work just as much as his earth-shaking hits on the gridiron.
Real change happened inside Lewis as a person and that change has become just as marketable as the #52 jersey sold across the United States. People like to see the bad guy change for the better, and everyone wants the good guy to win in the end.
“It’s not how you start. It is how you finish.” My dad has told me these words a hundred times throughout my life whenever I wanted to quit because things got hard, or if I made a mistake and claimed there would be no possible way of fixing the problem. No one person lives out this saying more than #52.
Ray Lewis’s football career has never really wavered, but his personal life and the publicity he received because of it have been to the lowest valleys and highest mountains. As the Ravens take the field Sunday, the anchor of their defense will play his last game, yet this won’t be the last we see or hear about Lewis.
Throughout the years, with the help of good timing and good PR, Ray Lewis has been able to create a legacy that will live far beyond his lifetime. It was never about how his life started in the NFL, but it is about how he will finish. Lewis has used his past to inspire and encourage others. Talk about becoming a public relations practitioner’s dream!