Courtesy Keith Allison/Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Yesterday was an overall great day for Ray Lewis, who’s now a step closer to crossing into official legendary territory as a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, no (allegedly) broken endorsement deal goes unpunished.

Lewis was one of 27 former pro football players selected as semifinalists for the 2018 Hall of Fame class. Joining Lewis as first-time nominees were Randy Moss, Ronde Barber, Steve Hutchinson, Brian Urlacher and Richard Seymour. As CBS Sports noted, the list is refreshingly replete with players tied to controversies on or off the field (see: Moss’ mooning celebration, Lewis’ murder trial) throughout their careers.

On the same day that news broke related to Lewis’ career-capping Hall of Fame bid, however, the Ravens legend became publicly embroiled in a new legal fight related to his limited edition “Ray’s Reserve” bourbon line. TMZ reports Leverage Agency, a New York-based marketing agency, is suing Lewis due to an allegedly botched sponsorship deal between his bourbon brand and a very famous racehorse named California Chrome.

According to TMZ, the firm that owns Ray’s Reserve agreed to pay $50,000 to sponsor the almost 2014 Triple Crown-winning racehorse during the January 2017 Pegasus World Cup Invitational Race in Florida. Ray’s Reserve reportedly owed the firm $25,000 in cash and $25,000 in bourbon. Under the terms of the deal, jockey Victor Espinoza even wore pants labeled with the Ray’s Reserve logo.

But Ray’s Reserve didn’t pay up, according to Leverage Agency, which has since filed a lawsuit.

Lewis’ attorney told the gossip site that “there’s no justification for Ray to be named personally in the lawsuit,” since he had no involvement in the deal and has only licensed his name for – but doesn’t own – Ray’s Reserve.

Ray’s Reserve remains an interesting piece of the former linebacker’s resume. The bourbon costs $250 a bottle, has a limited first batch of just 100 bottles and will forever be remembered as an addition to President Donald Trump’s liquor cabinet. (The limited supply could explain why the terms of the deal didn’t hold up: $25,000 worth of bourbon would amount to the entire first batch of Ray’s Reserve; 100 more bottles could mean years of waiting, assuming they’re not already aging.)

If we really evaluate what’s at stake here career-wise, the lawsuit regarding Ray’s Reserve doesn’t overshadow the Hall of Fame bid news. And perhaps by the time the selection committee announces its 15 player finalists in January, Lewis’ bourbon-horse lawsuit will be all cleared up.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...