What Will Drive the Legacy of Ray Lewis, One of the NFL’s Most Polarizing Superstars?
Professional athletes’ extracurricular activities are a regular feature of sports media. Sports scandals can either increase fan engagement or detract from the excitement of athletic success. Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ 17-year career serves as a powerful case study for recovering from scandal by building a new reputation. Months after his criminal charges
involving a double homicide were dismissed in 2000, Lewis led the Ravens to their first Super Bowl victory.
In the years since, media coverage of Lewis’ leadership both on and off the field has made him one of the league’s most well-respected personalities. Despite being days away from retirement, a potential new scandal has surfaced, putting Lewis’ reputation on the line once again. As measured by Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight™ social media analysis platform, social media opinion can be tracked over time as a measure of what works and what might not work to influence public opinion about a team or a player.
Throughout Lewis’ dramatic final season, negative and positive social media opinions ebbed and flowed with his injury, recovery, and subsequent retirement announcement. From the 2012 season opener to just before Super Bowl XLVII, #52 was the subject of over 3 million posts on Facebook and Twitter. Between the Ravens’ first game on September 10 and what many thought to be a season-ending injury in October, 30% of conversation mocked Lewis’ melodramatic behavior and saint-like status or called him a murderer. Social media analysis reveals that praise of his character was the dominant theme in the conversation (44%) and was inspired by his motivational, spiritual pep talks and his charitable work around Baltimore.
Mid-season, recovering from injury and out of the spotlight, Lewis’ football talent inspired an overwhelming 67% of the conversation as fans missed his contributions on the field. In contrast, while he was sidelined only 6% joked about Lewis and 3% connected him to the double homicide.
With only 4 games left in the regular season, on December 9 Ray Lewis made an impressive comeback from his muscle tear, allowing him help the Ravens reach the franchise’s second Super Bowl. The month of January has been mostly good to Lewis with a successful post season and plenty of positive press, highlighted by his retirement announcement on January 2.
The volume of conversation, as illustrated above, spikes with each news event in the month of January. Positive opinions prevailed just after Lewis’ retirement announcement early in the month. January 6, 12, and 20 mark the Ravens’ playoff wins, and the proportion of negative commentary about Ray Lewis increased with each round, especially those meant to mock Lewis’ personality or past.
Allegations that Lewis used banned substance during his recovery from injury broke in the news media on January 29, causing yet another occasion for negative opinions to dominate online conversation. For the first time all season, criticism of his character and past actions has eclipsed praise of his career and personality. By January 30, conversation surrounding the scandal has subsided, but one must wonder what will happen if more details emerge.
It seems that Ray Lewis’ undeniable talent has been the strongest driver of his reputation recovery in the past. With an imminent opportunity to lead his team to a second Super Bowl championship, sentiment over the next few days will certainly shape the legacy of the NFL’s most polarizing superstar. Will a superior performance in the final game of his career lead fans to forget that he may have relied on banned substances to get there? Tune in Sunday, and to Crimson Hexagon’s blog next week, to find out and to see what other social media analysis we uncover.