The Ray Lewis interview that has been airing on ESPN all week has triggered controversy because of the great linebacker’s statement that crime will rise if there is no football season.

It seems that many people have taken exception to Lewis’s bold prediction, but I agree with him.

NFL games and stars provide hope for kids living in high-crime areas. I know because I was one of those kids.

When I was growing up, there were drugs and gangs and lots of street life right in front of my face. I easily could have fallen victim to that activity if I hadn't been chasing after the guys I watched play on Saturdays in college and Sundays in the NFL.

Dreaming of being the next Ray Lewis or Greg Lloyd occupied so much of my time that I didn't have enough energy to do the wrong things in the wrong places. Trying to be the best became my life. Yes, my parents and other influential people guided me and encouraged me to believe in myself, but football kept me focused.

If there is no NFL season, how many of these kids will let their attention shift to the local celebrities on their blocks selling drugs, sitting in fancy cars with good looking women and shiny jewelry? How many kids across America will find themselves behind bars because they were chasing after something they probably know very little to nothing about?

I don't know what that number would be, but I hope that these kids are in front of a television or in a stadium come this fall watching football and falling so much in love with a player that they spend seven days a week learning about that player and trying to emulate that player, and keeping their energy focused on something positive.

Ray Lewis was one of the men who inspired me to be more. It’s not a coincidence that I played linebacker -- it's men like Lewis whose film I now show to my sons and say, “Look, this is who daddy wanted to be like,” and it's men like Lewis who give others the courage to speak up when it is needed.