It’s the best wekend of the year for professional football (that’s American-style football, for all you non-American readers). So let’s talk about a football brand.
By his own admission, Baltimore Ravens sure-fire Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis was a pretty bad guy, bad enough to be indicted in 2000 on charges of murder and aggravated assault. The charges were dropped in favor of lesser charges and a stiff fine. But the images and circumstances swirling around the incident — a night club, a limo, a few words, a brawl, Lewis’s rough entourage, his later admitted cover-up — along with his on-field reputation for particularly hard hitting in a violent sport, yielded him a personal brand that could only be envied by a thug. His brand came packaged in one of three wrappers: a Ravens uniform, an ankle length fur, or an orange jumpsuit. In Baltimore, he was cheered on the field, feared off it and scorned behind his back as “too ghetto for his own good.”
But Ray Lewis proved what BP, AIG and many other blemished corporate brands would do well to understand: brand redemption can be achieved; the price is honest, real, sustained change. Today, ten years after the ugly incident that defined it, the Ray Lewis brand is golden. Let’s let Wikipedia tell us why:
“Lewis started the Ray Lewis 52 Foundation which is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide personal and economic assistance to disadvantaged youth. The foundation has funded such events as adopting ten families in Baltimore City community for the holidays, an annual celebrity auction and bowling tournament, the Great Maryland Duck Derby, Thanksgiving food drives on North Avenue in Baltimore and Ray’s Summer Days. All proceeds have helped fund the Ray Lewis Foundation.
Lewis has since been involved in pressing political, business, and philanthropic leaders for a stronger commitment to disability sports both here and in the developing world. Lewis was also honored with a JB award (named in honor of CBS broadcaster James Brown) during the 2006 off-season and received the “Act of Kindness” Award for his work in the community.”
But that’s not the whole story. Ray Lewis still leads his team onto the field and hits as hard as ever. But he also takes the time to mentor others in the NFL — not just his own teammates, but the same people he’s likely to hit on any given Sunday. He’s used his own personal redemption as a tool to help others redeem themselves. He doesn’t preach, he ministers. And he’s found his way back as a product endorser, too, even appearing on the cover of the Madden NFL video game.
What would happen if BP honestly undertook an effort to become environmental leaders, rather than leaning on a PR campaign? What would happen if AIG led the drive for financial reform and corporate responsibility? What would happen if they did those things without fanfare or PR flacks? Wouldn’t long term benefits accrue? Couldn’t they be corporate Ray Lewises? They wouldn’t have to be any less competitive, just transparent and disciplined.
OK, time to get off the soapbox. The Ravens are about to play the Steelers. Gotta go catch me some Ray.