In a candid, emotional and wide-ranging interview, two-time Super Bowl winner Ray Lewis, who is arguably one of the greatest defenders of all time, talks about his impoverished beginnings (he was born when his mom was 15 years old and didn't really know his father until age 33), his record-setting Baltimore Ravens football career, his arrest and subsequent acquittal for double murder, his commitment to improving race relations, police brutality in America and much more.
The October cover story hits newsstands Aug. 30. A selection of his conversation—over cigars—is below:
On turning to football, a result of seeing his mother through rough relationships: "Ten years old, I made up my mind: that last altercation ... was that. My mom would never be touched again."
On the high of his life: "The high in my life has always been my mom. To see her endure. When I was 10 years old, I tugged on her dress and I said, ‘One of these days, you're never going to have to work another day in your life.' And I meant that. ... The happiest moment of my life was when I called my mom and said, ‘I got a college scholarship.' "
On why NCAA rules force students to steal and cheat to live while playing college ball: "Money. They don't want to share that ... who makes all the money? The league. In college who makes all the money? The school. But there's no game if you don't have athletes, so why aren't we paid?"
On the NFL's business model: "The NFL is the only sport that tells you the higher you go, the less we respect you. I beg to differ. I am greater than I will ever be than when I was playing. Why? Because I do it for me."
On regrets playing an entire career with the Baltimore Ravens: "Not one. I would never put on another jersey. Never."
On being accused of a double murder: "Every moment in life is intentional. What I had to go through individually, as a person, not only prepared me for a journey that I couldn't predict, but it prepared me to go through one of the most controversial seasons in my life."
Lead Atlanta detective Ken Allen on whether Lewis should have been charged with homicide [in an interview with Cigar Aficionado]: "I don't think Ray Lewis murdered anybody."
On being charged with murder despite evidence to the contrary: "Cowards exist at every level. ... People don't understand how cruel the world really is."
On treatment while in jail: "For like the first seven, eight days I never ate anything outside of orange halves. If you saw the moldy bologna and things that they were trying to ... I was not an animal. And I was not going to succumb to that. So every day [my friend] would bring me a bunch of orange halves. He snuck them in for me. ... What happened to me, those 15 days, I will live for the rest of my life. And I'm OK with that."
On forgiving Paul Howard, the DA who tried to destroy his life: "I forgive him. Because my duty as a child of God is to forgive and keep moving. I pray for them. When I saw what was happening and when I saw what happened, I gave up trying to be liked. And with those guys, their names are in my Bibles, that hopefully God blesses them."
On his commitment to combatting race relations and police brutality in cases like Freddie Gray's: "I'm on the ground now. I won't stop. ...There's a war that Jim Brown, Ali, that all those guys passed down to me. Why? Because I think everybody in the streets, everybody knows who I'm for, what I'm for and what I stand for. I hold these conversations at my house to enlighten people on life. Marv [speaking to Shanken], I do more for people in broken neighborhoods than probably anybody you'll know. And you won't find one camera."
On why the government isn't stepping in: "Because they don't know what it feels like. They don't walk the streets. You know what America has told us? Make it out and don't go back."
On advice to his sons: "I'm never concerned about you, I'm concerned about the people and the company you keep ... because I wasn't man enough to tell the wrong people, ‘You're not bad people, you're just not going where I'm going. So that means me and you really don't agree.' Am I man enough to say that now? Absolutely. Was I man enough at 24? Absolutely not."
On his pledge to his kids: "I'll never leave my kids. Ever. Ever. There's not one dance recital, one football game—that was my commitment to my family."
Brian Billick, head coach, Baltimore Ravens from 1999–2007, on Lewis: "Ray Lewis is the most dominant defender of his era. Ray was unique in that he had superior athleticism, intelligence and tenacity. But his willingness to learn, even as a perennial All-Pro who really had nothing left to prove, is what set him apart."
Rex Ryan, head coach, Buffalo Bills, on Lewis: "I would rank Ray Lewis as possibly the best middle linebacker in the history of the NFL—him and Dick Butkus. ... When you look at Ray among defensive players of his time, he is right there with Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders."
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One Newsstands Everywhere August 30
The Lewis interview joins an elite club of seven extensive interviews conducted by Cigar Aficionado editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken. The October issue showcases Shanken's eighth cover interview in the 23-year history of the magazine.
Previous exclusive interviews by Shanken: