RAY LEWIS emerged virtually unscathed yesterday from a trial in which he had been accused of two grisly stabbing deaths.
A plea bargain relieved the Baltimore Ravens linebacker of charges that he participated in the killings -- by wielding the knife or by engaging in the scuffle that was a prelude to the murders.
Now he faces a long period of public scrutiny. He can begin to reclaim his status as a solid citizen by providing every bit of information he may have.
Two men died. Ray Lewis was there. And when the melee ended, he ran, ditched his clothes and misled prosecutors. For obstructing justice, he agreed yesterday to a year's probation.
He may have been in the dock all these months simply for leverage. The trial so far suggests that no one knows -- or will admit to knowing -- what happened outside that Atlanta nightclub.
Mr. Lewis and two friends, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, were charged with the stabbing deaths of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker in the early morning of Jan. 31.
The prosecutor's political motives for charging Mr. Lewis are challenged: He's up for re-election. But he had to compel cooperation from Mr. Lewis after seeing much of his case crumble.
A downside for young athletic millionaires is having to cope with hangers-on -- people who wish to enhance their own status by befriending or confronting the rich and famous.
The truth is harsh: The stars must cope -- or end up in serious trouble.
Ray Lewis will live with the memory of these deaths and the near-death of his sports career. He can expect reminders in every National Football League stadium. The only thing fans love more than applauding heroes is taunting them.
Ray Lewis' future in the NFL and his $26 million contract (less his legal fees) remain secure. But his image and that of professional sports have been sacked.