This year will mark Ray Lewisí 10th holding down the defense of the Baltimore Ravens. Throughout that decade, the Florida-born linebacker has dug deep roots in the city he now calls home. He opened Ray Lewisí Full Moon Bar-B-Que in Canton in 2005, has preached at various local churches, and has been giving back to at-risk kids and their families through his Ray Lewis Foundation, the organization behind the second annual Rayís Summer Days charity event thatís happening at various locations around the city this weekend. But a telephone chat with this linebacker of steel reveals that under that tough physical exterior is a man whoís concerned about kids in this city and abroad, and his own four children. For Lewis, life is not all about football.
City Paper: Why are you having Rayís Summer Days?
Ray Lewis: Rayís Summer Days was kind of a branch off of my Ray Lewis Foundation weekend that I used to do by itself. My cause for Rayís Summer Days is linked to my cause for the Ray Lewis Foundation, to benefit at-risk youth here in Baltimore. I love to go out and see kids, and I love to go out and create smiles. And thatís what my foundation is based off of.
Growing upóI wasnít the richest kid. So for me, to go back and give to a kid who has less material thingsóshoes, clothes, toys . . . during Thanksgiving I tried to feed over 400 or 500 families. And on Christmas I try to do Christmas drives. And for back-to-school, I try to give backpacks and pencils. I [also try] to give back to my high school and to little league teams. There are so many things that I like to do [under the foundation].
What does it feel like when you see a kid you help melt into smiles?
Itís what drives me to never quit in anything in life. Most kids donít realize it, they touch [my heart] when they tell me they love me and they watch me [play football on TV] all of the time. They donít realize how much strength that gives me to keep going on.
You also plan to have an EA Madden Challenge, and whomever wins will get to play you. How is it playing Madden 2006 and being yourself? Does the Madden player in the virtual world really capture the real Ray Lewis?
No! (laughs) I believe it does, to a certain extent. I do play [Madden] from time to time. My kids know more about more moves than I do.
Are you as competitive about Madden as you are about the real deal?
In everything I do in life. I donít care what video game it is. If you tell me you can drink a glass of water faster than me, Iíll bet you.
After a season of knocking out big husky players, donít you ever just want to get fat like the rest of us? Donít you just want to go to the nearest Baskin-Robbins, pick up a spoon, and just hang out?
Hmmn-nnn. No. . . . Years ago, I used to go in the stores and pick up bags of candy. Snickers, Twix, and everything. I used to eat a whole pint of butter pecan ice cream. But now, I donít do it for health reasons. I canít walk around eating all of that stuff or Iíll go out on the field and pass out.
How many tries did it take to get that Ray Lewis pregame dance down to a science? Do you practice it in front of a mirror at home?
Yeah, I practice my intro! Iíve been doing that dance for years. Even in my days of being in my dance group, which I wonít go into . . .
Aside from yourself, who has the best dance moves in the NFL?
You know who I really love to see do something is Chad Johnson. He is so creative. And itís funny, because I treat him as my younger brother. He always calls me and says, ďGive me something else to do.Ē
Some players go back to their homes elsewhere in the off-season. Why have you decided to make Baltimore your home? Does that mean that you would stay in Baltimore?
For the rest of my life. Iím never leaving Baltimore. Baltimore is me. God let me know that He has a divine purpose for me being here. I used to just drive downtown and see the things that [kids] were going through, the poverty, the confusion and crime. And my number one thing was, ďYou know what, [God]? I know why you have me here. To be a light in the midst of darkness.Ē
Ed Reed has emerged as a leader on your team, and Steve McNair may become the new quarterback. But up until now everyone has considered you the voice or the leader for the Ravens. If McNair comes on board, will you still see yourself as the leader?
I see myself as one of the leaders. We have different leaders in different areas on our ball club, which is very strategic. [But] thereís a difference in a leader and a voice. Iím not afraid to be a voice for us. And thatís why I think Iím kind of catapulted into the leadership role most of the time, because Iím going to be the one to speak out. Iím not afraid to tell you, ďOh yeah, weíre going to beat them. Oh, they wonít get a hundred yards. Oh no, they will not.Ē
Thereís been some talk about your being dissatisfied with the defense. What do you want them to do, and have things improved in recent practices?
Everybody keeps saying Iím dissatisfied about defenseóno. In my heart, Iíve always been a champion. Iíve always been dissatisfied with losing. Because I believe in my heart that thereís no team thatís won the Super Bowl in the last four or five years since weíve won it that, in a head-to-head battle, can beat us. Every year your objective is to get better. Iím ready to get betteróto go back to touch glory again. Because I owe my city that.
What are your thoughts on family? Do you ever plan to get married?
Oh, of course.
Are you waiting until after football?
Of course. I know my commitment to this game, and thereís something about a man coming home to his wife. Just like Iíve been married to this game for so many years, and as dedicated as I am, thatís how Iím going to be toward my wife. My wife will not be competed withónot with this game. Because this game isówhatever you put into it is what youíre going to get out of it. And itís the same thing with your marriage.
The Rayís Summer Days event reminds me of something that Magic Johnson does yearly in Los Angeles called Midsummer Nightís Dream. You now own a restaurant, and you have been a leader not just for your team, but in the community as well. Do you see yourself becoming a mega-entrepreneur like Johnson?
Of course. And what God has blessed me with right now, when it all comes together, what Iím going to be able to do for people is going to be incredible. Iím not talking about what Iíve got in my pocket, [but] when I leave this earth, I will leave a stamp on love. And I canít expose it right now, but I canít wait until Baltimore finds out what Iím doing just downtown.
You went to Africa recently, to Ethiopia and Angola, to help rehabilitate disabled kids through sports. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
When I was first shown a video through the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation Sports for Life program, when they introduced me to it, I was just listening at first. I did want to go to Africaóit has always been in my plans for my life to go back to the Motherland. But when she showed me the video my eyes watered up so quickly, because I was [watching it] asking myself, You mean to tell me that these kids are missing limbs, and are on crutches still trying to kick a soccer ball after not having the proper treatment?
When I went over there, I said, ďI needed this in my life.Ē Because it gave me a different perspective on what people try to get you to worry about. People want to get you to worry about whoís talking about you, what theyíre saying . . . [but] do you know that there are people who are starving? Do you know that there are people who donít have a roof over their head? When I saw that, I fell on my knees and put my face on the ground, and I thanked God for letting me see that. Because they woke up every day happy without [having] anything. Itís amazing that a large majority of people over here wake up with everything, [but theyíre] sad.
What is it about sports specifically that helps to rehabilitate disabled kids? Is it the love of the game that transcends all else?
The game is excitement. The game is defeating somebody else and strategically trying to get around them or maneuvering or whatever it may be. The game takes you away from the pain.
Later this month youíll go to Congress to lobby for more money for these kids.
They had this race over there where the kids are running like three miles, and 70 percent of them didnít have shoes. And Iím talking about walking around barefoot every day on 100-degree asphalt. No shirts, same clothes every day. Itís not as if they have wardrobes. And food? Jesus . . . when I saw this, I said, ďIf Iíve got resources, yíall got resources. And when I come back, Iím coming back with a blast to helpóclothes, food, and footballs.Ē
Few sports figures have lobbied Congress with such a request. Do you ever see yourself running for political office?
Yeah, president. (laughing) I havenít gotten totally into it like that to answer that question honestly. I would definitely not be opposed to running.
If you had not decided to play football, what career would you have chosen?
A minister, definitely. I already preach now. My home Church is the Greater Faith Missionary Baptist church in Florida, but Iíve spoken at Pastor Jamal Bryantís church, and later this month Iím supposed to be opening for Bishop T.D. Jakes.
If you ever had to, how would you live without football?
Oh, easily. [I have] my family. I have my three boys in Florida in track and football. Every time I see them come around the track, running with heart . . . see I donít worry about winning or losing. They know Daddyís over there. When I see my daughter in gymnastics and she runs over me to tell me, ďDaddy, look, I passed to a higher grade!,Ē I shed a tear every time.
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