When the 28th season of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” premieres Monday night, one of the 12 contestants will be familiar to football fans and Marylanders: Ray Lewis.
The legendary Ravens linebacker will square off against celebrities like model Christie Brinkley, former NBA star Lamar Odom and actor James Van Der Beek in the dance competition series. Lewis’ professional dance partner will be revealed Monday night.
Here’s what you need to know about the former NFL star.
1. He already has a trademark dance.
Lewis became as famous for his pregame gyrations as for his fiery speeches. It wasn’t a Ravens home game without Lewis storming out of the team tunnel and doing his trademark “Squirrel” dance.
“It started one time, they got ready to introduce the defense, and they were going to introduce us together,” Lewis said in 2013. "This guy in my hometown, Kirby Lee, would always do this dance, and the dance was called the ‘squirrel,’ and I told him I was gonna do that dance one day, and he was like, ‘You’re not gonna do it,’ and I was like, ‘I’m gonna do it.’
“So one day they were introducing the defense, and I came out and did it and, of course, the crowd went crazy. After that they were like, ‘We need to see the dance again.’ So after that, it just kept going. Then I started adding music to it and movie clips to it. It was a good time.”
2. He had a historic career in Baltimore.
Lewis was a 13-time Pro Bowl selection, 10-time All-Pro, two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Super Bowl champion and Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXV. In 2018, he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the second Ravens player ever so honored. (Safety Ed Reed joined him and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden this summer.)
Lewis is widely considered the most important Ravens player in team history, if not the greatest linebacker in NFL history altogether.
“You can’t replace him, you just can’t,” Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome said last year. “You couldn’t replace Willie Mays. Certain guys like Bill Russell, they can’t be replaced. We have not been looking for the next Ray Lewis because there will never be another one.”
3. He was a champion wrestler, too.
Lewis won the Florida Class 4A state championship in the 189-pound weight class as a senior at Kathleen High School. In 2012, the Maryland chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame honored him for his accomplishments beyond the sport.
"He's a natural leader, a great person," said Stephen Poole, who coached Lewis for his junior and senior years. "No hassles, you tell him to do something and he just did it. Whatever the opponent gave him, he took advantage of whatever there was to take advantage of. He wrestled some great athletes. The wins weren't easy. He was sweating bullets doing it."
4. He was involved in a murder trial after a fatal fight at a Super Bowl party.
After a fight at a Super Bowl party in January 2000 left two dead, Lewis and two companions were questioned by Atlanta police and later indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges.
As the trial unfolded, Lewis’ attorneys negotiated a plea deal with the Fulton County district attorney: Lewis would testify against his companions and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice in exchange for having the murder charges against him dropped. (Lewis had initially lied to police, telling them he was not at the scene of the killings.) He was sentenced to 12 months’ probation and fined $250,000 by the NFL. His companions were later found not guilty.
Lewis told The Baltimore Sun in 2010 that “no day leaves this Earth without me asking God to ease the pain of anybody who was affected by that whole ordeal.”
5. He joined Ravens players in kneeling in 2017 and said it was to “honor God.”
In September 2017, Lewis dropped to both knees and interlocked arms with Ravens players during the U.S. national anthem before a game in London. More than 200 NFL players protested during NFL games that weekend after President Donald Trump said that players who kneel ought to be fired.
But Lewis said he went to his knees “so I can simply honor God in the midst of chaos.” Just a month earlier, Lewis had criticized Colin Kaepernick, who was the first NFL player to kneel in protest over racial inequality and police brutality, telling him: “Get back on the football field and let your play speak for itself.”
An online petition to have Lewis' statue removed from M&T Bank Stadium in the wake of his kneeling had over 83,000 supporters before it closed.
6. He’s kept busy in his retirement.
Since retiring after the 2012 season, Lewis has remained as active off the field as he was on it.
He’s shown up on ESPN, Fox Sports and Showtime as an analyst. He's produced a podcast and written a memoir. He holds camps for high school recruits. And he continues to expand his philanthropic footprint in Baltimore.
“Life now, I don’t think it’s about what I did,” Lewis said last year. “I think it’s about where I’m going. I just think there’s so much opportunity that if you leverage it right, the world is whatever you want to make it. I wish more guys would take this part of life as seriously as they took the athletic side of life, to understand that your brand while you’re playing will set up this side of life.”
7. He’s the only Raven to have graced a “Madden” cover.
After winning his second NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2003, Lewis was honored the following year as the cover athlete on “Madden NFL 2005.” He was the first defensive player ever to be featured on the cover of the popular “Madden” video game.
Lewis didn’t exactly fall victim to the “Madden Curse,” but it was not a vintage season. While he made the Pro Bowl, Lewis didn’t record an interception for the first time in his career, and the Ravens didn’t make the postseason.
8. He already has experience performing on TV competitions.
Two years ago, two future Hall of Fame inductees went head-to-head in an unusual competition: lip-sync. Lewis took on former star tight end Tony Gonzales in “Lip Sync Battle” on Spike TV, with Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” as his song of choice.
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Lewis wore a headband and a Band-Aid on his cheek and everything.
9. He went out on top in the NFL, but not until after a weird controversy.
After tearing his triceps in his final season with the Ravens, Jackson missed nearly three months of action. Ahead of the Ravens’ appearance in Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, Sports Illustrated reported that Lewis had tried to obtain deer antler velvet spray in an attempt to accelerate his healing process.
Lewis vehemently denied that he used the spray, which includes IGF-1, a substance banned by the NFL. Mitch Ross, owner of S.W.A.T.S. (Sports With Alternatives to Steroids), dodged questions about his contact with Lewis and later apologized.
“I never saw Ray put it in his mouth,” Ross said. “I want to apologize to any athletes that this story hurt. It was my intention to shine a light on the technologies that are light years ahead of what people can understand. I had no control of when the story runs. I’m trying to make right the wrong with Ray Lewis.”
Lewis had seven tackles as the Ravens held off the San Francisco 49ers, 34-31, for their second NFL title.
10. He has a son playing football at Maryland — as a wide receiver.
Rayshad Lewis starred at Bishop Moore High School in Orlando, Florida, before committing to Utah State. After finishing his freshman season second on the Aggies in receptions (40) and receiving yards (476), the 5-foot-10 Lewis transferred to Maryland.
He sat out the 2017 season and appeared in all 12 games as a cornerback last season. Lewis switched back to wide receiver during the offseason; he doesn’t have a catch yet through three games. Lewis is the second in his family to play for the Terps, as running back Keon Lattimore, a half-brother of Ray Lewis, rushed for 1,744 career yards and 19 touchdowns in the mid-2000s.