Tavis: Ray Lewis is a 12-time NFL Pro Bowler who is considered one of the best players to ever play the game. He is also the vice chairman of the United Athletes Foundation, which has launched a two-year campaign about kidney disease awareness called “Take on the Tour.” Ray Lewis, good to have you on this program.
Ray Lewis: Thank you, Mr. Smiley.
Tavis: Good to see you, sir. This must be the longest amount of free time you’ve had in a while.
Lewis: (Laughs) I tell you what it is for me. I started playing football in 1985, so it’s been 25 years since I’ve had a break, this summer. So I’ve kind of got a different approach on different things about the lockout and all that good stuff.
Tavis: How weird does it feel to have this sort of extended downtime?
Lewis: You know what, I don’t want to call it weird for me. I think for other people you can definitely call it weird, but for me, I call it more of a relief. My workouts are historic for just beating my body up, beating my body up, and now you take this long window of break and it’s like putting almost two to three years back on your career.
So for me, it’s kind of an uplifting thing and I’m like wow, I get this time to really focus on me. Because if not, you’re in training camps, you’re in mini-camps; you’re just doing too much. Sometimes you do so much that you kind of get pulled away from trying to take care of you.
Tavis: It’s hard to follow this story, to know exactly what’s going on, because we’re just getting bits and piece of what we think the judge is saying and doing. But the word as we sit here now is that the judge is going to mandate that both sides, the players and the NFL, end up in mediation. Is that a good decision, you think?
Lewis: Well, I tell you, the thing that we really can’t do is kind of speak about it. We’ve been sanctioned to keep our mouth closed. I would say about it I would definitely tell more athletes that are in my position to have way more things going on than just football.
That’s the opportunities that I’ve created up under my umbrella, not just with the UAF but also the RO52 group. Just creating all these different opportunities, whether it’s staffing, whether it’s merchant services – all these different things are opportunities that I’ve created just to create other jobs and just to keep myself really busy and really energized on what business is like in football and life after football.
That’s what has me so excited. I’m in a summer where I can actually see life after football clearly, and not be at mini-camps in and out, not dealing with this. So right now I just think it’s a great opportunity.
Tavis: I hear your point and I understand why – I don’t agree with it, but I understand why the player’s association wants the players to stay kind of tight-lipped about this. I get that as a strategy. We’re going to stay focused, we’re going to stay unified, we ain’t going to be saying 18 million different things. I totally get that.
Let me ask you, though, since you won’t talk about that, to tell me how you think the fans – that, you can talk about – how do the fans process this work stoppage, for lack of a better phrase?
Lewis: Well, I think the fans – and I just got through speaking to somebody about this – I think the fans, if you want to actually learn about us, I think you have to go way more intricate than just what you see on TV, because that’s whatever they want to report. But it’s just so much going on, and when you talk about being in our world you have to understand we’re individuals too. We’re not just athletes. No, we’re fathers, we’re sons. So when you put us through a job shortage you take away everything that we built.
So now we have to figure out insurance programs for our kids, and it’s just so much we have to figure out. So from the fan perspective, I’ll say – and it’s almost the way I live – I don’t speak on nothing that I don’t directly know about, and that’s what I would tell fans.
If you really want to know, you have to get into it very detailed to really understand what’s going on right now with us.
Tavis: One last question which I think you can talk about, because while it’s being discussed in these negotiations it came up well before there was a work stoppage, and the fans have something to say about this as well. You talked earlier about the fact that you are putting two or three years on your life, which is dangerous for y’all who have to get hit by Ray Lewis, that he’s adding two or three more years on this frame already. (Laughter)
But what about the notion, from Ray Lewis’s perspective, of adding a couple of games on the schedule?
Lewis: Yeah, I don’t agree with that.
Tavis: You don’t agree with that?
Lewis: No. You’re talking about – unless you’re doing it, unless you’ve been in the game and you go through, nobody sees what we do off the field, and nobody sees what your family goes through, what your kids have to go through some days that you can’t pick them up, you know what I’m saying?
Some days you’ve got to keep ice on your shoulders or ice on your knees and all these different things, and now you’re talking about – the summer’s already took away from you as it is. You don’t have any summers anymore because you’re in mini-camps, you’re in training camps, all these different things. Then when you get into the season, you’re talking about adding two more games to make an 18-game regular season.
Sooner or later you’re going to be playing with machines, because you’re losing too many athletes, you know what I’m saying? Then you have this – which I don’t agree with as well – you have this artificial turf which does not go right with our bodies. So the pounding of that and then the rigorous summer workouts that we have, it’s just too much, it can become too much.
Tavis: To your point now, do you ever get scared? Do you ever take the time to think about what your body is going to be like when you finally stop playing?
Lewis: Yeah, that’s why I take care of it. Yeah, that’s why I eat the way I eat, that’s why my education process to a lot of men is you take care of your body, it’ll take care of you. There’s nothing I’m doing to my body that a regular person is not doing to theirs outside of just running into somebody at full speed. (Laughter)
Tavis: That’s a big difference. (Laughter) Whatever you did this morning, I am not doing this afternoon with my trainer. That’s not going to happen, I can tell you that. We got a different training regimen, I do believe, but I digress on that point. United Athletes Foundation – what is it?
Lewis: Yeah, wow, it’s actually a foundation that was created that now we’re able to gather up all the resources that we’ve learned and now take back to our communities. That’s the thing – and what we can do together. We have over 150 athletes right now in all these different sports and all these different genres, and now, together, as a vehicle, together we can push back into our communities and teach the education about this one cause that we’re actually chasing right now, which is kidney disease.
I’m directly affected with the kidney disease because my grandmother has kidney disease, so she’s on dialysis. So the first partnership is we just partnered with (unintelligible) right now who’s really fighting – who’s on dialysis as we speak, but also he’s a warrior when it comes to just getting out there and do it, and that’s the awareness that we’re trying to bring back to our communities. Understand that. You’re talking about over 27 million people in this country has kidney disease; another 21 million who’s just walking around that don’t know they have it.
So when you start to get into these numbers and then when you’re talking about Afro-Americans, we’re the ones that’s directly affected outside of a whole group of people.
So when you start to understand these things, billing these athletes and putting these athletes together, what we did with UAF, that’s the goal. If we can keep this thing together, then we can go back to our communities and actually change the thought process of it.
Tavis: When you can pull together 150 athletes from all different sports to focus on a particular problem, when you can pull that off, how do you feel, then when you hear people suggest that athletes are selfish, they only care about themselves, all they care about is money, they’re not interested in trying to help others.
You have a different perspective on this, but how do you feel when you hear people demonize, criticize athletes that way?
Lewis: Well, like I said, I just think a lot of people don’t – have never sat with us. You can talk about what you see from the outside; it’s hard to tell me who I am when you’re just looking at me with a football uniform on. That’s a totally different person. That’s my job, that’s it. That’s it. Once I leave there, most of us are totally different people than we are on the field. That’s what this foundation is about.
This foundation isn’t about coming to actual anything. We’re saying be a part of something, be a part of change, real-world change, not that everybody’s doing so much individually. We figured it out that you know what, if I bring Dr. J with me, if I bring Dr. Andrew Young with me, if I bring Hank Aaron on with me, if I bring all of these guys on with me, then guess what – we win together, because we go back to our communities, we rebuild the way we should. We’re rebuilding them.
Tavis: That’s a heck of an autograph signing session. (Laughter) If you could work that out.
Lewis: You know what? I like that. I might try that.
Tavis: Yeah, there’s money in that. Just give me my share since I gave you the idea.
Lewis: I got you. (Laughter)
Tavis: Just teasing, just teasing. So I would assume, then, that over time the issues might change. So right now it’s kidney disease, and you want to stay focused on that.
Lewis: Yes, yes.
Tavis: But there’s so much good that can be done. After you do this for a couple of years you might find another issue?
Lewis: There’s no cause we can’t hit, and that’s the beauty of all of us being together, because everybody’s going to be affected by something. Somebody else is going to be going through something in their family, somebody else – so that’s our total goal, is to go around as this big old unit, this huge unit, and go change, change, change, change.
At the end of the day, I tell you, Tavis, the beautiful thing about it – God created us to work together. He never created us to work separately. When we start going separate and we start trying to figure things out separately, we lose. That’s why I love the thought process of what we’re doing, because we’re telling people across the world, “You’ve got to be a part of this, because it’s just change for everybody.”
It’s not just this one cause that we’re sitting here saying, “Oh, just believe in this cause.” No, we’re saying, “This is the first step. We got two, three, four, five, six, seven on down the line until we really solve some of the world’s issues.”
Tavis: I want to end, right quick, where you began this conversation, and that is with this notion that this underscores for athletes that you have to have something that you believe in that’s bigger than the game that you play. How much does this reinforce that notion for you?
Lewis: Yes, sir, this is it. This is it. Don’t walk through life just playing football. Don’t walk through life just being an athlete. Athletics will fade. Character and integrity and really making an impact on someone’s life, that’s the ultimate vision, that’s the ultimate goal – bottom line.
Tavis: Ray Lewis is the man. I’m honored to have him on this program, but more excited about the work that he and all these other athletes are doing with UAF. Ray, good to have you on.
Lewis: Hey, appreciate you.
Tavis: I hope this thing ends so y’all can get back to, doing what you do.
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