(Ray Lewis photos courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)
Talk of Fame Network
Former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis is one of the most decorated players in the history of the NFL. He was a two-time Super Bowl champion. He was a Super Bowl MVP. He was a 13-time Pro Bowler, 10-time All-Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year and member of the 2000s' all-decade team.
And now? Well, now, that same guy doesn’t watch the NFL. Or, at least, he says he doesn’t … and on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast he explains why: He doesn’t recognize it.
"When you sit there, and you watch the perfect hit," Lewis said, "and then you watch the referee throw a flag ... then you watch them replay it three or four or five, six times, and you see he never touched his head? You can't watch the game! I'm too passionate for that!
"My heart, man … I love sports. I love it. But you can't take that part away from me. Don’t take the natural part of competition away from pure competitors. You can't do that. You just can't do that. That’s why it's hard for me to watch sports right now.
"Really, the only sport I try to watch now is (when it's played by) my own son, and my son is at Utah State. And he's starting as a freshman -- Rayshad Lewis … He was playing corner his whole high-school career. And I ended up telling him, I said, "Son, now listen: The game is going a different way. Defenders won't be able to defend by the time you get into the league. So if you're going to play the game, play the game on the wide receiver's side so it favors you.' I wouldn’t tell anybody to play defense anymore."
Lewis is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018, and he's a dead-bolt cinch not only to make it to Canton but to make it in his first year of eligibility. Yes, he was that good, and his resume reflects it. But he said he can't imagine joining the league as a rookie today … mostly because the physical play that he and the Baltimore Ravens turned into two Super Bowl championships has been legislated out of it.
"I don’t know if I could play in today's times," he said. "I ask myself this question all the time … and people are like … 'Why don’t you watch football (any) more? And (you’re) not passionate about it?' And I say, 'You know what? I will never stop being passionate about it. But it's bad when they're treating the product the way that they are treating us.
"You can't treat players like that. And, morally. if you want to sit at the top of that food chain and tell us to play football ... the way you're trying to really monitor this game? You’ve got people 6-5, 6-2, 6-3, 6-7, playing this game, and now you're asking everybody to have the same target zone. We've created a word in sports called targeting. That’s if you want to go do archery."
Lewis' Talk of Fame Network appearance is proof positive that he remains passionate about the game … but he's passionate in his concern for the direction it's going ... and for the rules aimed at promoting offense at the expense of defense.
"You can only hurt the players enough. Sooner or later, it's going to backfire," he said. "Because you can't keep doing guys like this and doing families like this and affecting people's livelihoods and kids. I think sports don’t realize (that) when you start to do things like that you start to affect generations of people taking care of their families. You're taking money away from these people.
"You're telling us you created a game that’s supposed to be played this way. Don’t change the game in the middle of it. If you want to make the game better, make it better. But don’t change the game because of lawsuits and all. It’s a bad thing and it's terrible to watch sports now because I'm so tired of referees throwing flags."