In the first half of Super Bowl LV, the Kansas City Chiefs were flagged eight times – enough for Hall of Famer Ray Lewis to turn off the TV in frustration.
“I can’t watch it,” Lewis told Fox News. “I’ve seen this before; I don’t want to watch this.”
The NFL, Lewis said, is not the same as when he first took the field in 1996 as a rookie on the Baltimore Ravens, in which he led the team in tackles his first year.
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“It’s a league that makes it hard to watch from a defensive player. The art of why the game started, you know, tackling, you know, the big hit, the change in the course of a game, changing the way players from the offensive side think about the defensive side when you got to attack Dick Butkus or Mike Singletary,” Lewis said, adding that “the essence of the game is leaving.”
He believes his sentiment is shared with fans across the league.
“You can’t go nowhere and that’s not the conversation,” Lewis said, adding that the only thing he believes keeping people engaged is fantasy football and gambling.
“The only thing to me … that’s saving the game or making the game, you know, the ratings, so high is fantasy, right? The gambling. Like there’s no loyalty in sports. The game used to be about loyalty. If you’re a Ravens fan, you’re a Ravens fan,” Lewis said, who played his entire 17-year career with Baltimore.
But it’s not just the penalties or rule changes that have pushed the NFL into a new era of football, but the idea of loyalty or lack thereof said, Lewis.
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“When you think about Baltimore when you think about the city, you think about one person. That’s the legacy. I don’t think they [players] even think that far. Sometimes I think they get mad at management, and they get mad at owners and they just want to do it their way. And it’s like, well, I want out and I get it. I get it. And I could have said that you know, we went three, four years, you know, without having a winning season. But, I wouldn’t leave my city because I wanted to walk on the other side of that when the game was over,” Lewis said. “… But, you know, maybe I’m a unicorn, one of the last ones.”
The NFL, like most professional sports leagues, looks to adapt and make changes in the offseason. One such change is expected to happen next week at the annual owners’ meeting, where they’ll likely vote to expand the regular season from 16 games to 17.
Lewis opposes the move.
“You can play a lot of games, right? At one time or another, you’re going to have to realize you run the player down. That’s why Thursday nights and all of those games playing on Sunday, then a Thursday, the quality of football on one side is going to suffer more than the other,” he said.
By adding another game, Lewis cites concerns over wear and tear on players, as well as mental fatigue.
“The body is not a car, you just can’t [say] screw it on and make it go. The body needs rest and it needs proper recovery,” Lewis said. “That’s just a long, long, long season. So I don’t know, I always ride with the players and I don’t know how many are just excited to have another added game.”
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The 13-time Pro Bowler and two-time AP Defensive Player of the year retired in 2013. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
Lewis is now taking his talents from the gridiron to the cage and teaming up with the Professional Fighters League (PFL) in a new role aimed at advancing the sport of MMA.