Lewis' silence puzzles Sooner teammates
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Writer
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
12/27/11 at 4:22 AM
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TEMPE, Ariz. - Travis Lewis used to speak his mind.
Oklahoma's senior linebacker was, at times, an entertainer. A comedian, even. Fans and media all but stood in line to talk to him after practice, after games, on TV, on campus.
But like some who make their reputation by talking, Lewis probably took his act a little too far.
Once a fast-talking, insightful and forthright team spokesman, Lewis self-imposed a media ban and has ignored weekly requests for scheduled interviews since Oct. 29 after OU's big win at Kansas State.
Not a big deal, except that Lewis is a two-time team captain for one of America's premier college football programs, a senior who's about to become the first player in school history to lead the team in tackles four times, a squawk box of a personality who thrived in the spotlight, not only welcoming it but inviting it, seeking it.
OU plays Iowa on Friday night in the Insight Bowl. Protocol is for all starters to speak at bowl media day on Wednesday, so maybe Lewis will talk then. Until then, his teammates are fielding questions on his behalf.
"I didn't really even know he wasn't doing interviews or anything like that," said senior cornerback Jamell Fleming, "so when you tell me that, it's kind of like a shock."
It all started with his postgame comments after the Sooners' loss to Texas Tech. Three starters missed the game - Fleming (knee), running back Dominique Whaley (flu) and defensive tackle Casey Walker (hand) - and that didn't sit well with Lewis, who missed most of training camp and the season-opener with a broken toe, but returned early for the trip to Florida State.
"Obviously, anybody watching the game, (injuries) hurt us," Lewis said that night. "Some of them couldn't help it. I know I played with a broken toe. The coaches would have had to drag me off the field for me not to play. So, disappointed in some of the guys.
"I guess if the trainers tell you you can't play, you can't play. I just know they told me I shouldn't play, and I played."
Those comments, heartfelt as they were, inspiring as they were intended, backfired. Lewis was criticized on message boards, on talk radio and in newspapers and by online columnists for a lack of tact, team spirit, political correctness, or whatever.
Two days later, he went before his teammates, offered an apology, then stepped away from the microphone.
"I'll tell you right now, I was upset and I confronted him about his comments," said sophomore linebacker Tom Wort. "I mean, it's something you get over, no biggie, no grudges, and you move forward. As far as him not wanting to talk to the media, that's on him. That's his personal choice. It's not anything I can control."
Still, Wort and others didn't seem thrilled about Lewis' reluctance to talk.
"I really don't know how to answer that," said sophomore defensive back Tony Jefferson. "I don't want to get into it. I can't answer that for you. ... I like Travis. We all like Travis."
Players said at a place like Oklahoma, speaking to the media is part of the job.
"Yeah, it's part of playing here," Wort said. "You've got to deal with media."
Said sophomore defensive back Aaron Colvin, "You want to be on the big stage when you come to OU."
Wort talked about having much respect for junior defensive back Javon Harris, who talked to the press for nearly a half of an hour after his disastrous game at Baylor, when he gave up two long touchdowns.
"You're gonna have to face the music at times," Wort said. "You come out and perform badly, you know, you want to cower and hide. But you've got to stay the course.
"You've got to handle your responsibilities. There's no running from it. No hiding from it. If you do, you're gonna get exposed."
Most players suggested that Lewis didn't mean to be mean after the Tech loss.
"I don't think he meant to say it like that; throw people under the bus," said Fleming. "But sometimes I guess the stuff you say can be taken out of context. Maybe that's why he stopped doing it, because he didn't want any backlash if he started saying something else."
When Lewis apologized, it eased some tension. Some.
"There was sort of a weird vibe in the locker room," said sophomore defensive back Aaron Colvin. "Like, we didn't really know how he meant it. We didn't want to assume things, but it was out there. For him to come in here, no matter what we thought, or how we thought he said that in the media, he still apologized."
INSIGHT BOWL: OKLAHOMA VS. IOWA
9 p.m. Friday
At Tempe, Ariz.
Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Silent Sooner
John E. Hoover 918-581-8384
OU's Travis Lewis, a two-time team captain for the Sooners, has ignored weekly requests for scheduled interviews since Oct. 29 after OU's big win at Kansas State. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
After OU's loss to Texas Tech, OU linebacker Travis Lewis (center, taking down Tech's Adam James) questioned why some players sat out with injuries. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World