Who Is Ray Lewis?
Ray Lewis was born in Bartow, Florida, in 1975. The oldest of five children, Lewis became a football star at Kathleen High School and was recruited to play at the University of Miami. In 1996, Lewis was a first-round pick of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. He led the team to a Super Bowl victory in 2000 and was named Defensive Player of the Year that same season. Lewis retired after leading the Ravens to another Super Bowl victory in 2013, and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
Widely considered one of the best linebackers in the history of football, Ray Anthony Lewis was born Ray Jenkins on May 15, 1975, in Bartow, Florida. Lewis' early childhood years weren't always stable. His mother, Sunseria, was just 16 at the time of his birth and his father, Elbert Ray Jackson, was largely absent during his son's childhood.
As a boy, and the eventual older brother to four younger siblings, Lewis quickly became the man of the house. He helped his sisters with their hair and made sure his younger brother arrived at daycare on time.
Disgusted with his father's lack of contact, Lewis abandoned the name Ray Jenkins and took the name of her mother's boyfriend, Ray Lewis, when he entered Kathleen High School.
At Kathleen, Lewis was a standout wrestler and football player, who overcame his smaller size at the linebacker position with a fierce intensity and unmatched instincts. During his four years at the school he led his squads to a bevy of state and city titles in football and wrestling.
In 1992, Lewis, armed with a full scholarship, enrolled at the University of Miami, at the time home to one of the country's best football programs. He quickly became a vital piece in a vaunted Hurricanes' defense, and went on to twice set the school single-season record for tackles. At the end of his junior year he was runner-up for the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker.
Following the 1995 season, Lewis declared for the NFL draft. In the spring of 1996, the Baltimore Ravens made him a first-round pick.
Outspoken and ferocious, Lewis spent his entire 17-year career with the Ravens. He was a force out the gate, going on to lead the club in tackles during his rookie season. In 2000 and 2003 the league named Lewis its Defensive Player of the Year — making him just the sixth player to win the award multiple times.
In addition, he earned 13 trips to the Pro Bowl during his career and was named to the NFL's All Decade team for the 2000s.
Lewis' best year arguably came in 2000, when he led the Ravens to a Super Bowl title and took home the game's MVP honors. Overall, it was an astonishing year for the Lewis-led Ravens defense. The team registered four shutouts during the season and established league records for fewest rushing yards and fewest points allowed during a 16-game season.
The spiritual leader of the team, Lewis continued to play at an astonishingly high level well into his 30s. But by the 2012 season, his game had started to slow. Shelved for part of the year with triceps injury, and unable to dominate the field like he once had, Lewis announced that he would retire at the end of the season.
The news rallied a Ravens team that had faltered at the end of the regular season and helped steer the franchise to big victories over Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos and Tom Brady's New England Patriots. Lewis played his final football game on February 3, 2013, in New Orleans, Louisiana; in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens went head-to-head against the San Francisco 49ers, and won, 34 to 31.
At age 37, Lewis had finalized his career with a second Super Bowl victory. "How could it end any other way than that?" he said to interviewers after the game, adding, "And now I get to ride into the sunset with my second ring ... Baltimore! Baltimore! We coming home, baby! We did it!"
Arrest and Murder Suspicions
But for all his big-game talent, Lewis' reputation will forever be marred by his connection to a gruesome double murder outside an Atlanta nightclub in the early morning hours of January 31, 2000. Atlanta had played host to Super Bowl XXXIV and the game, which Lewis attended, had concluded just hours before.
The details of what happened that night have never been sorted out. What is known is that at some point a fight broke out involving Lewis' entourage that left two young men dead. Lewis, who was fingered in the tragedy, was jailed for 11 days and indicted with two others in the murders.
At the outset of the investigation, Lewis lied to police and said he didn't know his two co-defendants. Many felt that Lewis had something to hide but key evidence, including a blood-stained white suit that might have linked Lewis to the deaths, was never recovered.
In the end, Lewis struck a plea bargain. In return for having the murder and aggravated assault charges dropped, Lewis pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice and agreed to testify against his two friends, both of whom were eventually acquitted. Lewis was also sentenced to one year of probation.
While managing to escape the wrath of the law, the NFL showed its displeasure over the situation by fining Lewis $250,000 at the start of the 2000 season.
In the years after the murders, Lewis turned his life and image around, helped in no small part by leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory just 12 months after his arrest.
Lewis has spoken little about the case. But in a 2010 interview with the Baltimore Sun, he said, "I'm telling you, no day leaves this Earth without me asking God to ease the pain of anybody who was affected by that whole ordeal." he said. "He's a God who tests people—not that he put me in that situation, because he didn't make me go nowhere. I put myself in that situation."
In early 2013, Lewis faced accusations that he used deer antler, a controversial dietary supplement banned by the NFL. Deer antler reportedly contains a high concentration of insulin-like growth factor, which, much like human growth hormone, promotes faster recovery throughout the body. Lewis denied the accusations.
Football Analyst and Hall of Fame
Following his retirement as a player, Lewis joined ESPN as an NFL Analyst. He assumed a similar role for Fox Sports in 2017.
The following year, the former NFL great was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
'Dancing with the Stars'
Lewis joined the cast of season 28 of Dancing with the Stars in 2019, before aggravating an old foot injury that forced him to withdraw from the competition.
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