Hate to say it: Ray Lewis is doing it all wrong

February 06, 2009 | Drew Forrester

I’ll get the easy stuff out of the way first just so there aren’t any issues or questions.

Drew wants Ray Lewis back in a Ravens uniform.  Drew wants the Ravens to pay Ray what he’s worth.  Drew wants Ray to retire a Raven.  And, Drew wants Ray to be part of the Ravens in a front office and/or ambassador position when his playing days are done.

That covers it, right?  I’m PRO-Ray, if such a position exists.

Here comes the “but”, though.

But, Ray – as he tends to do – is going about this all wrong.

It pains me to say that, but it’s true.  Ray is handling this impending free agency period completely wrong.

I’m not really sure why, either.  I assume (and I’ve underlined it for emphasis because I don’t know for sure) Ray is getting media-training-advice from someone in his camp.  His agent, David Dunn, perhaps?  I don’t know.  But whomever it is telling Ray to “keep his options open” and “speak glowingly about any team you’re asked about” is giving him bad advice.  His current public method-of-operation is the wrong way to sew up his future in Baltimore, if, in fact, he really wants to be here.

Problem number one that Ray has created – yes, that RAY has created – is that he hasn’t yet honestly answered the question, “Do you want to finish your career in Baltimore?”.  We asked him that last week when he sat down with WNST on radio row in Tampa.  Jamison Hensley of The Sun has asked him that. And, the folks at the NFL Network have asked him that.

Ray won’t answer the question.  It’s a “yes” or “no” question.  But no one can get a “yes” or “no” answer.

It’s not about playing-both-ends-against-the-middle at this point.  It shouldn’t be, anyway.  At this stage in Ray’s career, he should be operating off of one foundation and one foundation only:  Honesty.

After giving the better part of 13 years of his life to Baltimore, and the team and the city reciprocating with more love and affection than any athlete might deserve, frankly, Ray shouldn’t have to do “player speak” or invoke the word of God or be ambiguous with his thoughts and plans for the future.  That’s what 25 year old players do when they’re trying to score that big-hit contract and they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings while they’re “playing the game”.

Ray – as the greatest player in the history of the franchise – doesn’t need to play the game.  He should be able to call his own shot.  And, if he were handling this whole differently, he probably COULD put his own time-line together and say to the Ravens, “this is how Ray sees the next 10-15 years of his life playing out.”

If I were advising Ray, I’d tell him the right way to handle this:  Put all the pressure on the Ravens by saying this, EVERY TIME a member of the media asks the $20 million question:  ”Do you want to finish your career in Baltimore?” – The RIGHT answer is:  ”Absolutely.  There’s nothing I want more than to get this contract done with the Ravens, retire in MY city of Baltimore and then turn my attention to my foundation and all the great community work I can do in Baltimore to help the people who have been so loyal and devoted to me.”

That’s the way Ray should be playing this.  When you’ve played 13 years and been as important to the sports history of a city as Ray has, you shouldn’t have to word-smith your way around anything.  Just be honest with everyone.  You’ve earned the right to tell the truth and lay waste to those who don’t like what they hear. 

Throwing out different answers depending on the day, the network and the hosts just isn’t the way to do it. With WNST in Baltimore, it was a lot of talk about God paving the way and deciding where Ray was going to go…he dodged most of the important questions by either saying, simply, “that’s just not something I’m thinking about” or, “I’m leaving that up to God.”  Religion is religion – some people embrace it, others ignore it – and I’m always impressed with Ray anytime I see or hear him talk about his Faith because I think it’s VERY real to him.  Last Thursday in Tampa, Ray talked as if God – not David Dunn – was his agent in this contract-pursuit.

With Jamie Dukes and the NFL Network, Ray eschewed the God-speak (I don’t think I heard him mention God once during the interview…at least not the part about returning to Baltimore and his free agency) and went straight for the player-speak-jugular.  He talked about Dallas, New York, not taking a hometown discount and being disappointed that this whole mess has boiled to the point where the words “Ray Lewis” and “free agent” are mentioned in the same sentence.  He talked “business” with Jamie Dukes and left out the religious emphasis…presumably because Dukes, an ex-player, understands where he’s coming from more than the newspaper or radio folks?

Some of that, by the way, I agree with.  Ray SHOULD NOT have to take a hometown discount to finish up in Baltimore.  In the same way that the Ravens wouldn’t think of saying, “why don’t you only play 12 games for us and we’ll pay you for 16″, Ray shouldn’t be asked to take less for playing all 16 games.  And, Ray’s right…this day – or even the talk of it – where Ray is free to roam the country and seek a new employer probably shouldn’t have ever arrived.  That said, Ray has a hand in that as well, as he turned down a $12 million offer last August.  On the whole, though, Ray has every right to be offended by the fact that the greatest player in the history of the franchise is about to shop himself around the way Jim Leonhard had to last April.

But, the Dukes interview on NFL Network was an eye-opener because Ray once again had the opportunity to tell the whole world he wants to finish his career in Baltimore — and he didn’t say that.  

I’m always somewhat shocked that Ray, a GREAT football player, is such a POOR handler of the spotlight. He stumbled and bumbled his way through a Comcast SportsNet interview after the 2005 season in which he failed to speak positively about Brian Billick.  He was never able to hide his disdain for Kyle Boller and the offense even though there were times when the team – and Boller – could have used some protection from their franchise player.  There have been numerous times when Ray bolted out of the locker room after losses and left his fellow players behind to answer the questions – but the following week when the team won, Ray gussied up with his coat and fedora and fielded question after question until the batteries died on the TV cameras.  Ray wasn’t heard from after the Pittsburgh loss in the AFC title game, telling a team staffer, “I just can’t do it right now.”  Fair enough, Terrell Suggs did it.  

Ultimately, the final judgement on Ray will be that he’s never had someone he trusts who also doubles as a good advice-giver.  That’s Ray’s biggest problem.  He’s a smart guy.  He’s a helluva football player.  And he’s an outstanding man with a big heart.  But he doesn’t have someone in his life who gives him sage, trustworthy advice.  He has people around him who only concern themselves with money.  Ray’s money. And their money.  When you’ve played 13 years in one place and you’re about to finish your career by earning “icon status”, money should be secondary to the means by which you establish your legacy in town.  Ray is either going to leave Baltimore and play in (insert city here) and lose some shine off of his tenure in purple or he’ll figure out that seeing this thing through and setting up lifetime-camp in Baltimore will pay him far more than 5 or 10 million dollars difference he’ll get over the next three years in Dallas, New York or wherever this traveling show takes him. 

I don’t know who pushed this latest media-talk style on him and told him to “play the field”, but that guy – or gal – doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Ray had the chance to put ALL of the heat on the Ravens by simply saying, “Of course I want to finish in Baltimore.  They know what it’s going to take to keep me here and I hope they find a way to provide it to me and we’ll get the deal done.”

Honesty.

That’s the approach Ray should have used.

Now, there IS a chance, obviously, that maybe Ray doesn’t want to finish in Baltimore.  If so, we’re all big boys (and girls)…just tell us that from jump-street and we’ll move on with our lives and our football season.  If there’s a piece of Ray that always, always, always wanted to wear the star on his helmet and play for “America’s Team”, it can be said that he put in 13 hard seasons in purple and deserves to go out in the fashion which he chooses.  And, if playing in Dallas (or Washington, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, etc.) is the final piece of Ray’s career puzzle, he should be able to make that move with his head held high.

Just don’t fib to us.  And don’t play us.

Honesty.

Do you, Ray Lewis, want to finish in Baltimore?  Yes or no?

If you do, you’re going about it the wrong way.

If you don’t want to finish in Baltimore, just say that and start laying the foundation for your move.

If Ray came out and said, “Look, I’ve loved it in Baltimore, but I want to finish in Miami,” do you think the Ravens would stand in his way?  I doubt it.  Why would they want a guy here who doesn’t want to be here?

As it stands now, the Ravens are getting let off the hook.  They want Ray Lewis back.  They want Ray to finish here.  In fact, I’m sure the Ravens would love to have Ray be an integral part of their organization well into the next decade.  They’d be silly to not want Ray Lewis to be entrenched at 1 Winning Drive.

The Ravens, though, have been honest.  They’ve gone public with their admiration for Ray and their hope that a deal can be worked out.

Ray could have put all the heat on them by saying, “Well, I want to finish here in Baltimore too…so pay me and let’s get this done and move on from here.”

Instead, Ray has put the heat on himself.  By not answering the $20 million question and by talking about places like Dallas and New York, all he’s doing is giving people in Baltimore a chance to see the ugly side of sports.

The ugly side is that money makes people say and do things that aren’t consistent with the way they’d be doing them if money wasn’t involved.  

It pains me to beat on Ray Lewis like this because you can go back to the first paragraph above and see what I feel about the man.  

But, he’s doing it all wrong.

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