By Aaron Wilson and Jeff Zrebiec The Baltimore Sun
NEW ORLEANS — Twelve years after his first appearance in the Super Bowl was marred by questions about his legal problems in Atlanta, Ray Lewis was back on that stage Tuesday, again being asked to defend his integrity and reputation.
Just hours after a Sports Illustrated story surfaced that alleged that Lewis used a banned substance to accelerate his return from a torn triceps injury earlier this season, the Ravens’ linebacker emphatically denied using performance-enhancing drugs in an hour-long session with reporters at Super Bowl XLVII media day at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I’m going to say it again, that was a two-year old story that you want me to refresh. I wouldn’t give him the credit to even mention his name or his antics in my speeches or my moment,” said Lewis, who will retire following Sunday’s title game against the San Francisco 49ers. “I can’t do it so I won’t even speak about it. I’ve been in this business for 17 years and nobody has ever gotten up with me every morning and trained with me. Every test, I’ve ever took in the NFL, there’s never been a question if I ever even thought about using anything. To even entertain stupidity like that, tell him to try and get his story out with somebody else.”
“Him” is Mitch Ross, a co-owner of Sports with Alternatives to Steroids (SWATS). Ross told Sports Illustrated that upon Lewis’ request, he provided the 37-year-old linebacker with products aimed at speeding up his recover from the torn triceps, an injury that occurred Oct. 14. Lewis came back in time for the Jan.6 playoff opener against the Indianapolis Colts and his return is being cited as one of the factors behind the Ravens’ Super Bowl run.
One of the products Lewis was allegedly using was a deer antler velvet spray, which the magazine reported including the substance IGF-1, which is banned by the league. Lewis denied using the spray. Ross, meanwhile, maintained in a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun that he provided a recovery protocol for Lewis following his injury in October that required surgery.
“I was introduced to Ray Lewis by (former Ravens quarterbacks coach) Hue Jackson, and I began working with him that year after I was originally supposed to work with (former Ravens quarterback) Steve McNair,” Ross said. “As soon as I saw him hurt his arm against the Dallas Cowboys, I texted Ray. He texted me back after the game and said, ‘Possible torn triceps.’ Once that was confirmed by the doctors, I asked Ray if he wanted me to set up a program for him and he said, ‘Yes.’ I got him set up and now he’s back on the field.
“It’s a shame that Ray is denying taking it. The NFL is uneducated. This is not a steroid. It’s not illegal. Ray is not a cheater. He did it the right way. Ray is a good man. He did the work. He rehabbed his arm and did the workouts. This isn’t a shortcut. It’s just natural science.”
Ross emphasized that the deer antler velvet spray that contains IGF-1 is akin to human growth hormone, but is naturally produced in food products.
“Ray worked his butt off to get back out there,” Ross said. “I helped Ray get back on the field, but he worked so hard to do that. I made an armband for him to use after a week to strengthen the triceps after he got the stitches out. He shouldn’t have to deny anything. It makes no sense to me.”
Asked whether if believes Lewis used a banned substance, former Ravens tight end and one of Lewis’ closest friends, Shannon Sharpe, told The Sun: “I won’t even dignify that with a response.”
Team officials, including coach John Harbaugh, defended Lewis, saying that he has never failed a drug test.
“Ray has been randomly tested for banned substances and has never failed a test. He has never been notified of a failed test,” said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens’ vice president of communications. “He denied using the substance discussed in the article, and we believe him.”
Lewis’ alleged involvement with Ross first surfaced in 2011 when ThePostGame.com reported that Jackson, the former Ravens quarterback coach and a current offensive assistant for the Cincinnati Bengals, was told by the NFL to sever ties with SWATS. Jackson reportedly introduced several Ravens to the company’s products, including Lewis.
“Two years ago, that was the same report,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t give that report or him any of my press. He’s not worthy of that.”
Though visibly agitated at times, Lewis maintained his composure and his sense of humor throughout his media day session, which was the most well-attended for any player by far. Reporters lined up many rows deep and were out-shouting one another to try to get a question in to Lewis.
Lewis touched on a variety of topics, many of them concerning his faith, his leadership role with the Ravens and his football legacy. He revealed that his grandmother, whom he called one of the “driving forces” behind his career, is currently in the hospital on life support. Lewis said that she asked him to promise her that he would win a second Super Bowl “before she went home.” He also reiterated that he’d definitely retire regardless of Sunday’s result, which will end his 17th NFL season.
“To go out with that confetti coming from the top of this building and hearing those famous words that the Ravens are the Super Bowl champions, there’s no greater legacy,” Lewis said. “There’s no other way that you would ask yourself to walk away from the game than to hear those words, and to know that when I leave this building, I’ll leave it on my terms.”
Still, Lewis was reminded again Tuesday that he hasn’t completely distanced himself from his past. Along with the banned-substance allegations, Lewis faced questions about his legal issues stemming from a 2000 post-Super Bowl incident in Atlanta that left two men dead.
Lewis was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the stabbing deaths of two men outside an Atlanta club. Following two weeks of a summer trial, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction-of-justice charge after agreeing to testify against two former co-defendants.
Relatives of the two men — Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker — have been interviewed by several media outlets in recent weeks after Lewis announced his pending retirement.
“I truly believe that if you take a 13-year break on anything, as hard as it is for them, as hard as it is about the things that you want me to speak about or you want to report about, I just believe honestly that this is not the appropriate time for that because of the sympathy that I have for that family or what me and my family have endured because of all of that,” Lewis said.
“Nobody here is really qualified to ask those questions. I just truly feel that this is God’s time and whatever his time is, let it be his will. Don’t try to please everybody with your words, don’t try to make everybody’s story sound right. At this time, I would rather direct my questions in other places. I live with that every day. You can take a break from it. I don’t. I live with it every day in my life. I’d rather not speak of that today.”
Asked if it is fair that people continue to talk about his past, Lewis said: “Everybody here has a past. It’s what you do with your future. It ain’t what you do with your past. Your past is what’s behind you. It’s what you do with your future that’s most important. Right now, you have to look at my future and where I’m going, based on the fact of me touching people’s lives. It’s the ultimate. I don’t look back — I look forward.”