Today, though, the now retired Lewis and M&T are linked in court rather than on the field. Lewis filed for bankruptcy in Georgia in April, listing $14.5 million in assets and $10.6 million in debts — among them, a more than $350,000 judgment on a defaulted loan from the bank whose name hangs over the Ravens' stadium.
M&T is just one of the companies saying Lewis did not repay loans that went toward failed real estate ventures and his now-shuttered trucking company, as well as a lifestyle of multiple houses and expensive cars. While Lewis and his attorney declined to comment, a trail of court documents tells an all-too-common story — a pro athlete who, despite making millions during his playing career, ends up in bankruptcy court.
"These are talented people, but with very little expertise in financial matters," said Annamaria Lusardi, a George Washington University School of Business professor who has offered workshops on financial education for pro athletes.
"You take a 20-year-old, and give them millions of dollars. Often there is very little guidance given to them," she said. "And this is a very risky career. Their careers can end when they are very young because of injuries."
Lewis, 32, retired in 2009 after nine seasons with the Ravens and Cleveland Browns. He lost part or all of some seasons in college and in the pros after tearing knee ligaments, and is among the football players who have sued the NFL over concussion injuries.
His financial problems put him on a veritable all-star team of professional athletes who have landed in bankruptcy court over the years, from football players Johnny Unitas, Warren Sapp and Michael Vick (who is still playing) to NBA players Allen Iverson, Latrell Sprewell and Shawn Kemp.
A 2009 article by Sports Illustrated estimated that within two years of retirement, nearly 80 percent of NFL players are in financial trouble due to bad investments, costly divorce and child custody payments, or simple overspending.
It's a subject of growing concern, and groups like United Athletes Foundation are trying to alert younger players of the pitfalls in mismanaging the multimillion-dollar bonuses and contracts thrown at them.
"We've been trying to target college athletes because once they start playing [professionally] and the money starts coming in, it's harder to get them to listen," said Reggie Howard, founder of the nonprofit organization that seeks to leverage athletes' celebrity into community and education projects.
Howard, a former Carolina Panther, said he knows too many fellow athletes who have lost fortunes, which in domino fashion then hurt the charitable efforts they had launched. His foundation, in which Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is particularly active, has offered financial seminars to players and their families, and has partnered with CESI, a debt-management group, to further such efforts.
The financial woes of Jamal Lewis — no relation to Ray beyond having been teammates — can be traced through court documents in several jurisdictions. The trail runs from Atlanta, where he was born and still lives; to Baltimore, where he began his NFL career as the Ravens' fifth overall pick in the 2000 draft; and finally Ohio, where he ended his career with the Cleveland Browns.
In July 2006, Lewis contracted with Lowery & Associates to build a $2.4 million home in Atlanta. Lewis sued Lowery after a construction expert he hired to inspect the site found it less than half-built and plagued with rust and mold. In July 2009, a Superior Fulton County Court judge awarded him more than $2 million in actual, consequential and punitive damages, court documents show.
But, a couple of months later, building company president Bradley Lowery filed for bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, Lewis continued to play, even as he worked to set himself up for the future. He had signed a six-year, $35.3 million contract and as a rookie helped lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2001. Now that ring is among the assets listed in his bankruptcy filing.
While still with the Ravens, he jumped into the cross-country trucking business. Lewis operated All American Xpress Inc. out of terminals in Georgia and Florida, with a fleet of around 200 trucks at one time traversing the United States delivering perishable goods.
"This is what I really want to do," Lewis told The Baltimore Sun in 2006 about his trucking business. "To me, football is just a means to an end. I don't want to rely on [Ravens' general manager] Ozzie Newsome and [Ravens' owner] Steve Bisciotti giving me another contract. I have to take what they've given me and make it work for Jamal Lewis."
In August 2006, Lewis financed 20 refrigerated trucks and two Mercedes-Benz cars for All American Xpress company through M&T Credit Services, and personally guaranteed the loan. Although Baltimore County Circuit Court records indicate regular payments were made for several years, by June 2010, M&T said the lease was in default. The bank won a judgment last year against Lewis for more than $350,000 in unpaid lease installments and late fees and $35,000 in attorney fees.