When Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis walks off the field after Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans Feb. 3, he will leave a legacy as one of the greatest players of all time.
Off the field, however, questions remain about the 13-time Pro Bowl selection, Super Bowl XXXV MVP, and future Hall of Famer despite numerous charitable works and a reputation for being an inspiration to his team.
Two Murders, No Convictions
In the early morning hours of Jan. 31, 2000 after Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta, two men, Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker, died of stab wounds after a fight with members of Lewis’ entourage outside a nightclub. Lewis and two friends, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were charged with murder.
Lewis later agreed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for the prosecution dropping murder charges against him. As part of the deal, Lewis testified against Oakley and Sweeting, who were subsequently acquitted of murder charges.
Lewis and a group of friends had been celebrating at a nightclub in Atlanta after the Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans.
In interviews during the past week with Examiner.com, three people with close ties to the case gave varying accounts of Lewis, the incident, and its aftermath.
Lewis’ lawyer during the trial, Ed Garland, says Lewis was 100 percent innocent of any criminal acts relating to the deaths, should have never been charged, and has handled himself impeccably since the trial.
Oakley, 44, who was charged and acquitted in the murders, says he’s ok with Lewis except for the fact that Lewis testified that Oakley started the melee. Oakley said the fight started after an argument between Lewis and someone from the other group.
And Priscilla Lollar, the mother of Richard Lollar, who lost his life that night, says Lewis is responsible for the death of her son.
Lewis could not be reached for comment for this article.
Lewis lied to police the morning after the murders. He denied knowing the people in his limousine, which sped away after the fight. Lewis also withheld information that some of people in his limousine were involved in the brawl. Lewis also told friends to “Keep your mouth shut” about the incident.
Investigators and prosecutors bungled the case, failing to interview all the witnesses after the incident, while multiple witnesses changed their stories from what they initially told police to what they ultimately testified about on the stand. No one was convicted in the murders.
One of those witnesses whose story changed at least once from the time he was interviewed by investigators to the time he testified in court was limousine driver Duane Fassett. Click here to view a brief video of his testimony.
After the trial, Lewis, who was in the middle of a four-year, $26 million contract, was placed on probation for a year and fined $250,000 by the NFL. Lewis went from facing a possible life sentence in prison to being named MVP of Super Bowl XXXV a year later when the Ravens defeated the New York Giants, 34-7.
Lewis would later pay settlements to Baker’s grandmother and Lollar’s fiancée.
Ray Lewis: Hero or Something Else?
Since the trial, Lewis has become a model citizen. The Ray Lewis Family Foundation provides assistance to disadvantaged youth and families. Baltimore renamed the street on which Lewis annually gives turkeys away on Thanksgiving “Ray Lewis Way.”
Lewis also has a keen eye for the camera and has craftily promoted his image while becoming the most marketable defensive player in the NFL. He is a TV commercial icon, with endorsements for EA Sports, Procter & Gamble, Under Armour, and Visa among others. His number 52 jersey is a top seller. Lewis also commands a high sum for motivational speeches.
During the national anthem prior to the AFC title game, Lewis stared forward intensely. When Lewis was shown on TV again, he could be seen emotionally mouthing the words, “Thank you father,” over and over and looking up toward the sky.
Lewis’ inspirational, charismatic and passionate personality has helped make him into a perceived hero who is universally praised and has rarely been criticized by members of the TV, radio, print and web media over the past decade.
Broadcasters, NFL players, and many fans heap admiration upon Lewis as both a player and a person. The NFL’s website features articles that speak glowingly of the Ravens’ star, and a search of his name on NFL.com resulted in at least 16 articles written in the past week about Lewis just on that website.
Lewis reportedly negotiated with multiple TV networks to provide commentary on the NFL after his retirement. ESPN has offered Lewis a contract to work on its NFL programming beginning this summer, according to Sports Illustrated.
Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he may rely on Lewis for advice when his playing days are over after Lewis’ career, which ends after the Super Bowl.
Lewis has become one of the faces of the NFL. It has been a remarkable transformation for someone who was once charged with murder and admitted to lying to authorities the morning after the incident.