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In 'I Feel Like Going On,' Ray Lewis Doesn't Apologize For Hard Hits


The Baltimore Ravens won two super Bowls. And both times, Ray Lewis was playing linebacker. He is considered one of the greatest defensive players ever. He is retired from the NFL now, and he's written a book that's called "I Feel Like Going On." He looks back on his childhood and also to an episode in Atlanta that rocked his life. And we'll hear from Ray Lewis about all of that tomorrow. This morning, Ray Lewis talks football. It's a sport he sees as simple. It is player against player.

RAY LEWIS: For 17 years playing for the Ravens, the one rule I had was I challenged anybody and everybody who came through those doors, beat me to the football. If you're better than me, beat me to the football because I'm going to be there every play.

GREENE: Well, you became one of the hardest hitters the game has ever known. And you write about that very proudly, with no apology for kind of the brutality on the field. What...

LEWIS: What am I going to apologize about? (Laughter). Like - like, it's the - it's what your coach says. You're sitting in a meeting, right, and your coach says, see this route right here? They run this route on this certain down. So you know what I'm saying on the other side? If he run that route this Sunday coming up, not only is his heart going to hurt, but I'm going to take his head off with it. And so (laughter) that's always been my mentality. So if you think about the linebacker position, right, the linebacker position is not a pretty-boy position. The linebacker position is a position that the first thing you think of is fear. The second thing you think of is pain. You hit people like that for one reason. You hit them so that the next person will see that on film and say, I don't want to get hit like that. And that's...

GREENE: You inflict pain. I mean, you inflict pain just because...

LEWIS: Absolutely. I tell people this all the time, right? I love sports. I love all sports. But this ain't volleyball. Like, you actually can touch somebody in this sport.

GREENE: It is definitely not volleyball.

LEWIS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

GREENE: Well, what do you tell people who today, in 2015, are increasingly seeing this game as too violent and too dangerous?

LEWIS: You know, we want to make emphasis of this game being so brutal now. No, this game has been brutal. This game was brutal from the first time you told two men to take their bodies and run full speed into each other. The way you play the game is the way the game was designed. And I don't care what you do with helmets, what you do with shoulder pads, what you do with any of these things. It still comes down to a man running full speed into another man.

GREENE: Well, what about a mom I'm thinking about, Ray Lewis, whose son wants to play football desperately, and she says, I can't let you do that because I don't want you to have the risk of a brain injury. It's just too dangerous? I mean, how would you sit down with a family and talk to them about that decision?

LEWIS: Because it's the same risk that somebody got to sit down and talk to a fireman, right? Somebody who wants to be a firemen - guess what the risk of that is. The risk of you going to save somebody else's life is you may lose your life. Policemen - you got the same risk. So everybody got risk. Like, so you choose what your risk is. I think my real argument is don't make this such a bad game because of the way the game was always played. And so when you sit down and talk to a child, just like I told my sons, you know what you need to do, right? There are people bigger. There's people stronger. And there's people faster. So if you're going to do what you need to do, you need to change your body. You need to look a different way. So it's a bunch of things that go into it. And then, at the end of the day, it's still a choice. If you think about it, nobody's really forcing us to do this. Nobody would ever have to force me to play the game. When I was in the schoolyards playing with no shoes on and every day I came home, nobody had to force me to do that. There was no referees. So when you got a busted lip and you got a busted nose, what you going to do? Say what, cry? OK, cry. Suck it up, and get back in there.

GREENE: That's former NFL star Ray Lewis. We'll hear much more from him tomorrow. He'll take us back to Atlanta and his involvement in a double murder case. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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