Lewis theories tangle on Web

Sports: From conspiracy buffs to bitter Browns fans, everyone with an opinion about the player's arrest is sharing it on the Net.

February 10, 2000|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

It's the perfect story for the free-wheeling World Wide Web: a sports star in jail, a brutal slaying, mystery, a far-off city and the Super Bowl.

In the fast-paced world of the Internet, where entrepreneurs and conspiracy theorists often mingle in awkward coexistence, the Ray Lewis saga is proving to be a boon.

Newsgroups have been flooded with posts from Web denizens who support or condemn the All-Pro linebacker, the latter sometimes in racist undertones.

One Web site has begun taking bets on whether Lewis will be convicted or acquitted on murder charges, while another, quickly founded to sell "Free Ray Lewis" T-shirts, asks viewers "to join us in supporting Ray until all questions are answered."

Not surprisingly, the Web's explosive pace of news, discussion and commercialism has led to some tasteless moments. One involves the sale of T-shirts and the recent shooting death of Baltimore County police officer Bruce A. Prothero.

The owners of www.freeray lewis.com say they are donating a portion of each "Free Ray Lewis" T-shirt they sell to a fund established by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 for Prothero, who was slain on Monday.

The site owners did not return calls or e-mail messages for comment. Police union officials, though, called the promotion "inappropriate."

"We absolutely do not have any relationship with that site," said Baltimore County Sgt. Stu Sardeson, a member of the FOP. "We don't endorse it at all. I don't know how [people] can associate these two incidents."

Meanwhile, Sportsbook.com, a gambling Web site, is touting "the most disturbing and controversial wager ever seen": a bet, complete with odds, on whether Ray Lewis will be convicted of murder.

The owners of Sportsbook.com did not return calls for comment.

Those who post messages on newsgroups, online bulletin boards where news events are often discussed, have freely piled conspiracy theories and racist dialogue alongside earnest discussion of sports and society. Typical of such postings, many are made anonymously.

So far, Lewis has been the only person charged in the murders of Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinth Baker, 21, stabbed to death outside an Atlanta nightclub after the Super Bowl last week. While investigators are trying to piece together what happened, those playing detective online already have offered several theories.

One man suggests Mark Fuhrman, the Los Angeles police detective who investigated O.J. Simpson, was in Georgia before the stabbings and was working with the "Georgia underground." "It is quite obvious that another innocent black athlete is once again the victim of a Mark Furman [sic] authorized act off [sic] inhumanity," the person wrote.

Fuhrman could not be reached for comment at his home in Idaho.

"This is truly a weird one," wrote one person on SunSpot. net's discussion group, referring to the stabbings and a medical examiner's report that suggests the victims were not beaten.

Others in the online community are calling for caution, asking people to wait for concrete evidence before making any rash judgments.

"It's created its own life," Adam Meister, a Ravens fan in New York, said after posting notes on several sites. "The Web promotes conspiracy theories. There are no conspiracies, just a lot of confusion."

Irv Gutin, 49, a computer programmer in Owings Mills, said by phone that he has tried to call for order. He has been surfing news Web sites in Atlanta and Baltimore for the latest scoops and posting them on the newsgroups.

"I'm trying to be the person who says: `Here's the news, make your own conclusions,' " Gutin said.

Gutin and others say the Ray Lewis case has brought people out of the woodwork, leading to an "explosion in posts" on the news groups. They say they are also concerned about the racist tone many of the posts have taken, such as one saying Lewis "typifies" young African American athletes with "too much disposable income." That note prompted a series of responses about racist attitudes.

Mixed among the conspiracy theories and race-baiting is a great deal of straight-ahead sports talk. How important a player is Lewis to the Ravens? Where does the team go from here? What does the arrest mean to the NFL, which has another player awaiting trial on murder charges?

Some postings even stem from residual anger over the move of the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996. The Lewis case has provided Browns fans with ammunition to ridicule their former team.

"The one thing this team has never had is integrity," wrote one person. "This is just typical of the kind of monster that would allow himself to play for this renegade franchise. The NFL should do the right thing and close this franchise down."

Ravens supporters say such messages are typical: When anything bad happens to the new franchise, they say, Browns fans appear.

"It doesn't matter if the Ravens do pretty well," Gutin says, "they will always find the bad side. When it comes to an anti-Ravens event, the number of messages shoots up dramatically."

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