It’s a week or so before the Super Bowl. With two weeks to fill, apparently the narrative of two brothers coaching against each other in the big game and two incredible line-backing corps going to war against each other isn’t enough.
(Seriously. Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger and Terrell Suggs are all playing in the same game, and sportswriters can’t think of an angle to make the same interesting. This might be the first Super Bowl with an on-field fatality!)
NFL legend Ray Lewis is retiring. And plenty of people think he got away with murder.
I think those people are nuts.
Ray Lewis got charged with obstruction of justice. It is obvious that he knows something about what happened in Atlanta on January 31, 2000, when Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar were stabbed to death. He came to the club with a dozen people, three of whom had bought knives at a sporting goods store the day before. It was 4 a.m. after the club closed. 4 in the morning is pretty late, and that means a lot of alcohol got downed before everyone got put out. And where there’s alcohol and lots of people, there’s bound to be a fight.
Someone named Jeff Gwen got into an argument with Reggie Oakley, one of the guys in Ray’s entourage. Bad idea. If you’ve ever been around someone famous, the guys in their entourage are always hyper. They’re so happy to be seen, they tend to be louder, more aggressive, more everything. Entourages get guys into trouble.
Jacinth Baker hit Oakley over the head with a champagne bottle.
A fight broke out. When it was done, Lollar and Baker were left to bleed out in the lot. The limo sped off and Lewis dumped his blood-stained suit and told everyone to keep their mouth shut. It looks pretty likely that he paid the defense lawyers for his entourage as well. It was a series of bad decisions, and two people died.
But here’s the kicker.
No witness said Lewis had a knife, except for Gwen who only saw a mink coat, which several people wore that night. The other testimony had Lewis trying to break up the melee. More importantly, anyone who thinks that Ray Lewis stabbed two people to death has no idea how knives work.
To kill a grown man that’s fighting for his life with a knife is very hard. To kill two of them is nearly impossible. To believe that out of a dozen people in a parking lot brawl, one guy did all the stabbing is insane. But that’s the picture being painted.
I’m not interested in blaming the victims either, but I will add one small addendum. In nature, when an animal is poisonous or otherwise dangerous, there is usually some physical feature to indicate it. Poison dart frogs are brightly colored. Rattlesnakes have… uh… rattles. Ray Lewis is uncommonly large, fantastically muscular, tough, mobile and very intense. Nature has given you every signal that this is not a man you mess with, if you intend to preserve your current level of health. On top of that, he was surrounded by people.
I’m not saying these guys deserved to die. But the situation as laid out above is not going to turn out well for anyone that starts a fight with these guys.
Does he know who did it? Maybe. It was a melee. A brawl is a blur. Time slows in the center, but around the edges, it rushes away. You’re not sure what happened. Lewis panicked. I wouldn’t say its a guarantee that he knows much of anything.
But he knows enough to feel badly about it.
Lewis changed. He cut out the entourage and the nightclubbing. He took his punishment (the maximum the law allowed for his charges and an unusually large fine from the NFL.) He gave the families cash settlements. He started charities and volunteered his time to various causes. And he understood that he would always be condemned by some people.
A court of law cleared him. The media has no business intimating that he’s a double murderer like we see happening this week. When the Steelers were in the playoffs, I didn’t see all this attention to Ben Roethlisberger’s legal woes. As a matter of fact, his cases were even more suspicious, and he is a repeat offender. But he somehow gets the benefit of a doubt. Ray Lewis doesn’t get that luxury. He’s big and scary, so he must be a murderer. Just look at him.
Those columnists that are baying for blood and using Baker and Lollar’s families as a front? Silent about Roethlisberger’s victims and his change to a evangelical Christian. As grating at Lewis’s faith is to them, they have no problem reconciling Big Ben’s public ministry.