Ray Lewis appears to have provided a template for anybody looking to rehabilitate their image.
Back in 2001, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker was the Super Bowl MVP but was passed over by Disney for its postgame theme park commercial, presumably because of his connection to a double murder in Atlanta.
Now, the day after Lewis announced he will retire after the playoffs, SI.com is reporting he is close to signing a multi-year broadcasting deal with ESPN, which just so happens to be owned by Disney.
According to SI.com, Lewis is expected to “have a significant role on the network’s ‘Monday Night Countdown’ program,” as well as other platforms. Lewis is said to have chosen ESPN over other suitors because the schedule will allow him to attend the games of his son, upcoming Miami freshman running back/defensive back Ray Lewis III.
This is the same guy who was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the stabbing deaths of two men outside a nightclub back in 2000. The former University of Miami star eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction-of-justice charge in exchange for his testimony against two former co-defendants.
Still, Lewis hadn’t won in the court of public opinion. He was booed in opposing stadiums, even as he led one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. Following the Ravens’ win over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, Disney opted to give its traditional “I’m going to” a Disney theme park spot -- a role usually reserved for the game’s MVP -- to quarterback Trent Dilfer.
But as he continued to earn respect on the field -- earning two defensive player of the year awards and serving as the Ravens’ spiritual leader for the better part of two decades -- Lewis has also done the same off the field. After staying out of trouble and concentrating on charitable efforts in Baltimore and Florida, Lewis now has no problem landing commercial spots and even had a stretch of road in Baltimore named after him in 2010.
And now he appears poised to make major bucks as an employee of a company that once wanted nothing to do with him. To say Lewis has come a long way in the last 13 years would be an understatement.
[Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the Ravens won Super Bowl XXV.]