A new role for Lewis: role model to help youths

This Just In...

June 16, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

SO WHEN DO we start seeing the public service ads? You know, the ones in which Ray Lewis appears on the television screen and says something like: "Hey, kids, I'm Ray Lewis, All-Pro middle linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens, and I've just learned something really important: It's always best to tell the truth. If something's bothering you, or if you get in trouble, go to your parents or your most trusted friends or your pastor. If it's something really serious, something that's against the law, go to the police. Everyone needs to do their part to make this a safer, better world for all of us."

Or, "Hey, kids, I'm Ray Lewis, and I've learned a valuable lesson off the football field: Be careful when you pick your friends. And if your friends do something wrong, try to show them the right way. If you see a friend with a gun or a knife, challenge them. Ask them why they have a weapon, and tell them you won't stand for it. That could save their lives, or someone else's, or even yours."

Or something like that.

I'm still hoping to see an announcement of some kind - that Ray Lewis would be getting involved in an ambitious and dramatic public service campaign to inspire kids to do the right thing. Maybe Lewis would get involved in the Stop the Violence 2000 campaign, a program that mentors juvenile offenders in Baltimore. I'm hoping to hear Lewis spread the word to kids that lying and covering up for your friends is a bad thing, or that a kid who's been running with the wrong crowd can get a fresh start in life by cooperating with cops trying to solve crimes.

Solving crimes is a good thing, after all. Especially in Baltimore.

I'm hoping to see Ray Lewis get involved in something grand like that.

Right now, there seems to be a tendency to make him a martyr, the innocent victim of prosecutorial zealotry or ineptitude. There's a big rush to let Ray Lewis get on with his life. We're told that what he had to say at his news conference at the Ravens training facility a week ago today was to be his last word on that foul business in Atlanta.

But what's the rush?

Why let this opportunity pass?

Ray Lewis might not want it, but he's been presented with a great opportunity to educate kids about doing the right thing, about standing up and telling the truth - not out of a legal obligation, but out of a moral one.

Starting with his guilty plea to obstruction of justice in Atlanta, followed by his testimony against his former co-defendants in the Buckhead double killing, Lewis seemed to be on track to draw something grand and beneficial from the tragedy.

But it all seemed to stop with the news conference a week ago.

"I'm ready to put this behind me," Lewis told reporters. "This is done. This is a chapter that needs to be closed. After this is over, I'm ready to walk away from this."

Lewis said he was still angry at the Fulton County district attorney who obtained the murder indictment against him. "Yes, I'm angry at Paul Howard," Lewis said. "Because from Day 1, I tried to speak to him and tell him that I was an innocent man."

Just a little refresher on that point, Ray:

On Day 1,you gave a bogus statement to an Atlanta detective who was investigating a double homicide in Buckhead.

You knew a lot about events leading to those homicides. But you didn't tell the detective. You said you appreciated the urgency of the investigation but couldn't cooperate until after you got back from the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.

So it's a transcontinental stretch to say you tried to tell the truth from Day 1.

Thus the guilty plea to obstruction of justice.

Legally, obstruction might not be a big deal, but it's not on the level of a speeding ticket, as Lewis' defense attorney, Ed Garland, said after the news conference.

Excuse me, counselor, but impeding a police investigation is a tad more serious than a speeding ticket. Can we all agree that obstruction of justice means, at least potentially, that bad guys remain free, and that killings remain unsolved?

Which is what we have in the Buckhead killings. No one stands convicted of the fatal stabbings of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar.

A jury acquitted two of Lewis' friends on the charges. The investigation was sloppy and rushed. Witnesses changed their stories. The defense raised the possibility that men never charged or even identified might have been responsible for the crimes. As a result, few people were surprised by the verdicts in Atlanta this week.

Maybe, with more cooperation from Lewis from the start, detectives might have been able to build a stronger case.

Baltimore has more than 300 homicides per year. Ask detectives why some of them go unsolved and many are hard to crack, and one of the major reasons they'll note is lack of cooperative witnesses.

Ray Lewis finally did the right thing by admitting that he lied to Atlanta police and testifying as a witness in the Buckhead murder trial. But maybe he's been too quick to put this episode of his life behind him and scoot back to his football career. He has an opportunity to do something positive, beyond what he was legally compelled to do in Atlanta.

All we've heard of Lewis' post-Atlanta desires is that he wants to get "back to what I've been doing, playing football and enjoying what I do, showing kids that there's still a passion for the game."

He can do better than that.

The Rev. Richard Harris, the linebacker's spiritual adviser during the Atlanta trial, said, "Ray realizes now that his mission in life is bigger than football, that football is just a means to an end, a means to give him a forum to really do what God has commissioned him to do."

Good. Now, let's hear it. Let's see it.

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