Ray Lewis & The Court of Social Opinion

Over the next few days, chances are you’re going to hear a thing or two about that big football game this Sunday. There’s also a chance you’re going to see and hear quite a bit about Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Linebacker, Ray Lewis.

His involvement in an Atlanta nightclub murder in 2000 is a key piece in understanding the public’s perception of Lewis – who is arguably the best linebacker to play professional football.

Since Baltimore defeated the New England Patriots last Sunday, I tracked the national social conversation around Lewis to see how much of the social conversation was negative and how much specifically referenced his past.

Equally important to note is that this year’s Super Bowl is also his last game before retirement. Conversations around the athlete may be at their highest levels, so what better time to understand the national perspective of a polarizing star athlete, who is concluding his career in what is the biggest game in professional sports.

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Since January 21 – 27, there have been 63,319 mentions of Ray Lewis on Twitter. While looking at the chart below, of these mentions, there was quite a disparity in opinion, with 20% having a negative/mixed opinion of the athlete. Of the 18% negative sentiment, 48% referenced the murder. In short, when Ray Lewis is mentioned in social media, 18% of the time it is negative, and of that negative conversation, approximately half of the mentions reference the murder incident.

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Analyzing the national opinion allowed me to create a baseline to gauge how different the opinions of specific markets in the U.S. were around Ray Lewis. Since Fizziology can geo-track specific social conversations from all 210 US DMAs, I decided to analyze the Baltimore (team city), San Francisco/Oakland (opposing team city) and Akron (victim’s home market).

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Within these three markets, it’s no surprise that Baltimore fans created the most social conversation around their star athlete.

What each of the three markets said about Ray Lewis is where the data gets interesting. The chart below paints a picture as to how fans in those cities currently feel about Lewis.

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In Baltimore, there’s no surprise. Their 3% negative sentiment is drastically lower than the national sentiment level. When analyzing the conversation, words like “legend” and “idol” were seen throughout the conversation. Sample Buzz: “Listening to Ray Lewis on @ESPN right now gives me goosebumps! #Legend #RAYvens”. To Ravens fans, Ray Lewis defines their franchise, and with good reason. In addition, their fans also aren’t blind to what others around country feel about the media coverage of their football icon. Sample Buzz: “Ugh. Ray Lewis coverage all week. – the rest of the country Hahaaaaaaa”.

The San Francisco/Oakland market, where opposing team fans always seem to have something to say, is where we see negative sentiment around Lewis rise above the national level. However, just 37% of the negative opinions about Lewis reference the murder incident. That’s 11% below the national percentage of negative murder references. San Francisco 49er fans seem to think Lewis is just “annoying” and that his on camera persona is “too much”. Sample Buzz: “Ray Lewis is retiring from football so he can join The Biggest Loser for increased on-air crying.”

Finally, the Cleveland/Akron market, hometown of the two victims who died in the incident, saw the highest levels of both negative and mixed sentiment, and the lowest level of positive sentiment of these four markets. We must remember that fans in the Cleveland/Akron market cheer for a division rival of the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns, and thus their opinions may also be stronger due to this fact.

Of the 25% negative conversation around Lewis in this market, 71% reference the 2000 murder. That is 23% more negative conversation around the murder incident that the national opinion. The conversation in this market is much more direct when compared to the other markets, as people in the market are still not convinced of Lewis’ admissions around the tragic incident. Sample Buzz: “Why was ray Lewis’ white suit he wore that night in Atlanta never found?”. In addition, they are creating conversations with media members, exclaiming their desire to see additional coverage of the murder. Sample Buzz: “@Espngreeny Why do u think Ray Lewis’ past is completely ignored and taboo topic? Forgiving nation or not, odd that no one can discuss it!”.

What Ray Lewis’ actions were on that January night in Atlanta is certainly not up for debate here. What this data proves is that his inclusion in that tragic event is continuing to affect the public opinion. Even with his consistent devotion and declaration of his faith combined with his excellent play on the field, approximately 1 in 5 U.S. social mentions around the athlete were analyzed as negative or mixed. With that stated, and with more than a decade gone by, Lewis still finds his reputation to be tarnished and in a poor state in the court of social opinion.

Have a player, team, sponsorship, or industry issue you want analyzed? Send me an email at [email protected], or find me on Twitter at @richcalabrese.