Watching Ray Lewis play football is simply unforgettable. The man is a powerhouse, with a seemingly infinite amount of athleticism, the ability to know where to be on defense at all times and leadership skills that motivate his teammates. As a passionate fan of the Miami Hurricanes, I watched him play during the 1990s and I remember seeing him dominate in the Super Bowls he won with the Baltimore Ravens, one that earned him MVP honors.
But it wasn't Ray Lewis the football player who inspired me to interview him. It was Ray Lewis the man.
In April, Lewis joined us at Cigar Aficionado's Night to Remember charity dinner, and I invited him to the podium to say a few words. I honestly didn't know what to expect. His brief speech—about his cigar-smoking grandfather, who he called "Papa"—was riveting and inspirational. I had to know more.
I then read his autobiography—I Feel Like Going On—which detailed his life, an amazing journey from the very basement of poverty to the top of the world. His father left him when he was born, leaving him and his mother—only 15 years old at the time—alone. Lewis wasn't even named after his biological father; his name is that of a family friend. He suffered as a boy, watching his mom being beaten by various men. The abuse drove him to strengthen his body, drove him to overcome the obstacles in his path. Football was salvation, an escape route from poverty and oppression. It allowed him to thrive and to help his mother.
Football made him a star, first with the Miami Hurricanes then with the Baltimore Ravens. He became the leader of that new franchise, the superstar of a defense that some believe was one of the best to ever take the field.
Football also brought him controversy, highlighted by a charge of double murder after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta in 2000. The charge could have ruined his career, and despite being found not guilty a cloud still hangs over him today. The lead detective in the case told Cigar Aficionado that Lewis should never have been charged in the first place.
Lewis came to my office. We lit cigars, sat down and began to talk. I wanted to hear more. Wanted to hear about his remarkable life's journey in his own words. The conversation was captivating. I invite you to read the interview, to get to know the real Ray Lewis. (And because the man is such a passionate speaker, we took video of the conversation—you can watch clips of the interview at cigaraficionado.com.)
Do you think you know the real Ray Lewis? I bet you don't.
Read the interview. It's one you won't soon forget.