What hiring Ray Lewis will do for ESPN

Jon Terbush
The Week
Ray Lewis will bring his brand of bombast to ESPN.

The controversial superstar will be even more visible now, to fans and detractors alike

In a move that had been expected ever since Ray Lewis announced his retirement, ESPN formally hired the star linebacker on Wednesday to serve as an on-air NFL analyst.

Lewis was one of the NFL's most bombastic, polarizing figures over the past decade, with his murder trial and pregame theatrics serving as a counterweight to his on-field dominance and two Super Bowl championships. While Lewis unquestionably excelled at the game itself, it's uncertain whether he'll have a successful — or even passable — career on air.

SEE MORE: 7 Goosebumps books that would make amazing movies

ESPN, obviously, thinks he'll be great, and is treating the hire as a major coup. In making the announcement, ESPN said it was betting that Lewis' long career — he played 17 seasons in the pros, an unusually long run for an NFL player — meant he was uniquely qualified to provide insightful analysis.

"One of the most accomplished players in NFL history, fans will be drawn to his knowledge, experience, and, of course, the passion he always exudes for the game," John Wildhack, an ESPN executive vice president, said of the move.

SEE MORE: The daily gossip: Harry Styles allegedly wishes he had never dated Taylor Swift, and more

The Baltimore Sun's Kevin Cowherd is similarly optimistic that Lewis' intensity would translate well to his new role.

"He'll be taught how to make his points directly, how to interact with the others on the set, when to talk, when to shut up completely," says Cowherd. "If the network consultants are smart, they'll let Ray's passion for the game and his amiability shine through and not be stifled by a lot of show prep."

SEE MORE: Why Democrats are threatening to revisit filibuster reform

Lewis' passion extended beyond the field to his training regimen and rigorous game preparation, which is why he was able to remain relevant in the game for so long even as he grew older. If Lewis brings that same work ethic to ESPN, some believe he's bound to do well.

"That type of drive to succeed is why he will probably have plenty of success in his new career as well," writes Bleacher Report's Tim Daniels. "While it will probably take some time for him to adapt to breaking down what happened on Sunday instead of taking part in it, he should eventually find a comfort zone."

SEE MORE: Or maybe I'm wrong on gay Republicans

Lewis' baggage, however, is nothing less than gargantuan. He's loathed by many who think he's a self-centered blowhard, an impression that has been bolstered by frequent religious preaching.

And Lewis will always be linked to the murder trial. He pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges for misleading investigators about his role in a fatal stabbing in 2000. Some believe he may even have been the murderer himself, and let members of his entourage take the fall.

SEE MORE: 5 things you probably didn't know about Neanderthals

ESPN reportedly weighed whether that alone would make Lewis too controversial for TV.

Lewis, who played his entire career for Baltimore, could also struggle to remain objective in his assessments and coverage. Accusations of bias are frequently tossed at broadcasters — think Joe Buck with baseball — and Lewis may find it hard to keep his love of the Ravens in check.

SEE MORE: Why the NFL's new helmet rule could do more harm than good

"Ray Lewis Bias Opinion Hits ESPN Airwaves," proclaimed a headline from SportsTalk Florida.

Lewis, with his boundless charisma and passion, will undoubtedly be a major presence on the air. Yet it remains to be seen whether that presence will add anything to the coverage, or merely give detractors yet another reason to keep hating on Lewis for years to come.

SEE MORE: Why CVS wants workers to reveal their weight

View this article on TheWeek.com Get 4 Free Issues of The Week

Other stories from this section:

Like on Facebook - Follow on Twitter - Sign-up for Daily Newsletter