Lewis owes apology, vow to clean act

June 09, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

The first step came Tuesday, outside the courthouse in Atlanta. Reporters were told that Ray Lewis would not comment after testifying in the Buckhead double-murder trial. His attorney, Ed Garland, read a statement that Lewis had written.

And then the word came down:

Lewis had changed his mind.

He wanted to address the media, after all.

"I previously sent Mr. Garland out to make a statement for me," Lewis said. "But I felt for a fact that I knew it wouldn't be right, because two young men's lives are still gone no matter that Ray Lewis is free."

Lewis,25, went on to say that he was innocent, that he was only a witness to the murders. He said he answers to a higher authority, "who has always been on my side." And he thanked team, fans and others for their support.

It was encouraging to see Lewis recognize his obligations as a public figure, to hear him acknowledge that a tragedy had occurred, and that a mere statement wouldn't be good enough.

By pleading guilty to obstruction of justice, Lewis took responsibility for his actions after the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, when he told witnesses to shut up and lied to police.

Today, he needs to take the next step. Today, he needs to take responsibility for his life.

For the first time since the murders, Lewis will answer reporters' questions in a news conference at the Ravens' training complex in Owings Mills.

He can start by apologizing for the crime he committed, something he didn't do outside the courthouse Tuesday, when he said, "I never did anything. I was nothing in this whole case but a witness the whole time."

He then can promise to tone down his lifestyle, exercise better judgment in choosing his friends and become as positive an example off the field as he is on it.

Is that too much to ask?

Not of athree-time Pro Bowl linebacker whose fiery locker room speeches and innate leadership abilities clearly demonstrate that he has the capacity to inspire.

Fairly or not, athletes frequently are held to a higher standard. Lewis now will be held to the highest standard, and not simply because he is on 12 months' probation.

Fairly or not, he was charged with murder. Fairly or not, he will play the rest of his career under intense scrutiny. Fairly or not, he is in a position to make a difference like never before.

After all the death Lewis has experienced, you would think that he is ready to extol the blessing of life.

After all the violence he has experienced, you would think that he is ready to become a soldier of peace.

Three of Lewis' tattoos are memorials to dead friends and relatives. He also wears a T-shirt under his game jersey in memory of Marlin Barnes, a close friend and teammate at the University of Miami who was murdered just days before the Ravens made Lewis a first-round pick in the1996 draft.

In a story about Barnes published just over two years ago, ESPN magazine recounted a conversation between Lewis and his boyhood friend, Eric Carter.

"Hey, E, how many people have we known that died since college?" Lewis asked. "Friends, neighbors, people we've known on a consistent basis?"

"Um, 14," Carter said. "Lost a lot of homies to the struggle."

"I think it's 15," Lewis replied.

Their friends had died in drug deals, drive-by shootings, bank robberies, car accidents and stabbings. And that was just in the two years since Lewis had left Miami.

This is the world in which Lewis has lived. A world that is difficult for star athletes to dismiss. A world that Lewis must now cut off, before it sucks him in for good.

Garland indicated Tuesday that Lewis was prepared to change his lifestyle, saying that his client "didn't really know how to say no to people and keep them away" in the past, but that he certainly does learn now.

As for Lewis' former co-defendants, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, Garland said, "I don't believe you will see him in their presence ever again."

That might be because Oakley and Sweeting could face life imprisonment if they are convicted, but Garland's point is clear. Lewis seems ready to figure out who his friends are, and push everyone else aside.

He will be asked about that today. He will be asked what it was like in jail. He will be asked what fans should think of him. He will be asked if he can ever be the same player again.

His words could help to restore his reputation. But in the end, it is his deeds that will matter. And before the Buckhead murders, Lewis was known for his good deeds off the field, his willingness to volunteer for charitable causes.

Fairly or not, that no longer is enough.

Ray Lewis needs to become an example to others.

A minister of life. A soldier of peace.

In his words

Ray Lewis' prepared statement Tuesday, as delivered by his attorney, Ed Garland:

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