Ray Lewis stunned the 254 recently drafted players at the NFL's annual rookie symposium in Carlsbad, Calif., with a surprise appearance Tuesday in which he cautioned them about life in the spotlight and the wrong crowd that fame can attract.
The Ravens' All-Pro middle linebacker spoke for 30 minutes, answered about eight questions from the rookies, then exited to a standing ovation. In his first appearance at a league function since being cleared of murder charges, Lewis emphasized that the incident has caused him to re-examine his future decisions.
According to a release given to the media, Lewis told the players, "A situation got me to a point to change. I had a problem saying no to friends. You will come in contact with people who always want to do something for you.
"We have to pick and choose things we do. We're being watched 24 hours a day. Be firm and stand on your own two feet. Understand that saying no to a lot of people is very important. Be firm when you say no."
Lewis had murder and assault charges dropped over three weeks ago and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with two stabbing deaths in Atlanta. A week later, two other defendants who were riding with Lewis in his limousine were acquitted.
"Everyone knows that when you step in the NFL, you're on a new platform," Lewis said. "Don't be with people who don't have the same focus as you. You shouldn't be the only person trying to be successful."
In a June 10 news conference, Lewis wished to put that part of his life in the past and said he did not want to address it with the media again.
The idea for Lewis to talk at the rookie orientation came from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Ravens coach Brian Billick then suggested it to Lewis. He agreed on the basis that no media would be present and left his training session with tight end Shannon Sharpe in Atlanta to attend the seminar.
Lewis, the league's leading tackler last year, was not listed on the itinerary and turned heads when he was the first speaker on the third day of the four-day event.
"Ray had their attention as soon as he sat down," said Earnest Byner, the team's director of player development, who accompanied the Ravens' rookies to the orientation. "You could hear a pin drop.
"It worked out perfectly. It set the tone."
It's the fourth annual NFL rookie symposium and featured such speakers as New York Giants quarterback Kerry Collins, Tampa Bay receiver Keyshawn Johnson and former Dallas linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson.
But Lewis became the focal point of the week, talking about his experience being locked up and going through the judicial system. Harold Henderson, chairman of the NFL Management Council, said players were "fighting for the microphones" and the question and answer session had to be stopped in order for the symposium to remain on schedule. Lewis stayed that afternoon to answer further questions.
"I'm trying to put this behind me," Lewis said. "I can try to be the greatest linebacker ever, but this is always going to follow me."
NOTES: The Ravens are close to signing their second draft pick, defensive end Adalius Thomas, a sixth-round choice out of Southern Mississippi. The team would be left to sign its first four selections, including first-round picks Jamal Lewis and Travis Taylor. ... Marques Douglas, a Ravens defensive tackle who was allocated this spring to the NFL Europe champion Rhein Fire, finished second in the league with nine sacks.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun