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ESPN Helped Ray Lewis Promote His Book and This SportsCenter Interview Was Rock Bottom

Wednesday was an embarrassing new low for ESPN. Set against the backdrop of over 300 employees -many of them long-time employees who have worked for ESPN for years  -being laid off, the network went full-court press in uncritically promoting Ray Lewis’ new book across its platforms.

There he was on First Take, chatting with his buddies Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless who asked him what was wrong with the Ravens’ defense and Peyton Manning’s arm.

Lewis stopped into Paul Finebaum’s show, because when you think S-E-C Football, Pawlll, you think Ray Lewis.

Lewis appeared across ESPN radio platforms.

He stopped in to chat with the NFL Live crew.

And then he got to go on SportsCenter, not as an employee breaking the NFL down (while getting mentions of his book in), but rather to directly talk about his book for over six minutes.

Host Chris McKendry asked, “What happened in that chaos? … You saw a friend get hit with a bottle?” Ray Lewis non-responded with “[t]hat’s it, that’s it. And that’s the only thing that you can explain when you have probably realistically 25-30 people, in an all-out brawl, nobody knows who nobody is.”

No explanation of what he did. Then, he just made the following statement about how he couldn’t be involved, which is just dumbfounding. “First of all, they are 4 or 5 inches freaking shorter than me, right? Why would I fight somebody anyway?” As we know, the only incidents of violence happen when people hurt those bigger than them.

But this segment of Lewis’ explanation takes the cake. I don’t know who murdered those men in Atlanta, and we’ll likely never know who used the knife or knives. But these statements are objectively wrong and went unchallenged.

I was found guilty of obstruction of justice, which is because the police who came at me and said, ‘yeah, n-word, it doesn’t matter what you do, we’re gonna find you guilty of this.’ I defended myself, stupidly, because you don’t speak directly to the police about nothing. If you’ve never been through anything like that, listen, man, you don’t know the protocol of that, ‘don’t say nothing; wait for your lawyer.’ I don’t know all that. So I immediately said, ‘what are you talking about, I don’t know everybody in the freaking car.’ That’s what I’m found guilty of, that’s the line of obstruction of justice, that says ‘what is Ray Lewis guilty of, how did Ray Lewis’ image get tarnished, because they found him guilty of saying ‘I don’t know everybody in the car.”

Ray Lewis was not “found” guilty of obstruction of justice for saying “I don’t know everybody in the car.” Jay Crawford did point out after that, that Lewis pled guilty to the obstruction of justice charge. He did that to avoid going to trial on greater charges. However, here is the CNN transcript of the plea hearing from June of 2000:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: “Mr. Lewis did knowingly resist and obstruct Detective Ken Allen (ph), who was the lead detective in this case, and other city of Atlanta law enforcement officers in the lawful discharge of their official duties by encouraging others to interfere and to hinder the investigation into the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar.”

At this time, I would like to ask you, Mr. Lewis, how do you plea to one count of obstruction as contained in the accusation 00SC06574?

LEWIS: Guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just very briefly, your honor. In Fulton County, the conduct involved here, involved Ray Lewis saying to the people in the limousine: Keep your mouths shut. He also gave a partial statement, which this court heard during this trail, which did not contain all of the information. I would point out to the court that later that afternoon he called the police and invited them to come out. However, he fully acknowledges his responsibility for those acts.

BONNER: Mr. Louis, you are pleading guilty under the First Offender Act; is that correct?

LEWIS: Yes

[Bold emphasis ours]

That’s a fair bit different than what Lewis was allowed to portray on SportsCenter yesterday. There was also no mention of the white suit Lewis was wearing that night that was never found. Failing to produce evidence material to an investigation, and instructing people in your limousine to not talk, is a lot different image than Lewis’ “woe is me, I didn’t know the realities of how the justice system worked” and “I was convicted only because I didn’t know who was with me” act carried out on ESPN’s showcase show.

To his credit, Crawford did ask about the settlement of the civil suits with the victims’ families. Lewis’ response was again ridiculous, and he was allowed to pass it off as philanthropy mixed with bullshit.

I’d still do it now. What’s the difference? I just buried four people that had nothing to do with me. I paid for their entire funerals. So when you ask me do I help people, absolutely. Those kids of those young men who are deceased now, if those phone calls, I get every day of my life. And I still help people every day of my life. So guilt, no, guilt is only when you feel guilty to say ‘listen, let me slide this to you, because I really feel bad.” No, I didn’t feel bad about that. Because I sat there and spoke to both families. I said, ‘listen, what I’m doing, this ain’t about me. It’s about because you let somebody confuse my name, and that child is innocent.

So me, money, money come a dime a dozen. Yeah, I don’t value money, but what I do value is my integrity as a man, and I value helping people no matter what the circumstance, what the circumstance people want to show. Helping people is my main goal, yeah.

I can’t even fathom how that is allowed to stand as the final word on the topic, and it’s an embarrassment.

When we talked to Robert Lipsyte, the outgoing ombudsman back in December 2014, he said that Ray Lewis led the list of on-air talent that he received mailbag submissions demanding he be fired, because “people still can’t get over a 14-year-old double murder charge he pled out of, paying a $250,000 NFL fine, and settling civil suits with the victims’ survivors.”

Notably, there still is no ombudsman around to internally critique ESPN for the Ray Lewis media cycle and performance yesterday. When a fair amount of viewers have issues with Lewis’ past, and then it is paraded out on the same day as the network makes massive job cuts, it feels particularly tone-deaf. Business is business, but one has to wonder what the end-game of doing this with Lewis at such an over-the-top manner was?

Let’s not be naive enough to realize that some of these SportsCenter spots aren’t ad-buys and money-making ventures. But promoting a sports movie as entertainment, and promoting a book that includes a divisive real-life issue, and allowing it to be promoted with revisionist history of some of the things we do know, are two vastly different things.

Add in that Lewis probably didn’t pay for those spots, but were just part of the deal of a high-profile employee. How much income was that worth? I don’t think we can suggest how others spend their money – and I’m also not one to underestimate the market value of some of the talkers on ESPN when it comes to generating ‘buzz’ – but Lewis just said, in unbelievable fashion, that he doesn’t care about money. On a day when several people were let go by ESPN while they showered valuable air time on Lewis to promote his book and peddle bullshit, well, it wasn’t the finest hour for a venerable sports institution.