Ray Lewis `must be trippin' ' to defend thugs

This Just In...

January 01, 2001|By Dan Rodricks

I WAS FINE WITH the Ray Lewis cover story in ESPN Magazine - it arrived over the weekend, just in time for Festivus - until the part about "thugs." Until the part about "thugs," I was a sympathetic reader, though I recognized the story as the kind of predictable and self-serving piece you get when a national sports magazine negotiates a memoir from a celebrity athlete who's been for the most part silent about a remarkable personal odyssey.

The Lewis story is one of those as-told-to pieces, composed by a sportswriter who has known the Ravens linebacker since his college days. The piece is published in Lewis' voice, and it's a good read, as these things go, though if you've followed the Lewis story at all, you won't find it terribly revealing. I believe we've heard or read most of this before - except the part about "thugs." (We'll get to that in a minute.)

Lewis says he was charged with the stabbing deaths in Atlanta last January because politicians wanted to "make themselves more famous." When the prosecution's case against him sputtered, the charges were dropped and Lewis pleaded guilty to obstructing justice. He believes the National Football League's $250,000 fine for his misleading statements to Atlanta police was unfair and he was treated harshly for the sins of other NFL players.

"I was on everybody's television - in chains," Lewis says. "I was getting dumped into the same car trunk where those FBI agents found Rae Carruth, [the Carolina Panther accused in his wife's killing.] I was O.J. Simpson all of a sudden. Y'all must be trippin'. I'm O.J. Simpson because I went clubbing with some friends at the Super Bowl and there was a fight outside the nightclub?"

Vintage Ray. "Y'all must be trippin."

By his testimony, Lewis uttered the same expression last January, inside the stretch limousine he had rented for Super Bowl weekend in Atlanta. He saw a couple of men in his entourage - "An athlete with a bunch of black people is always going to look like an entourage" - showing off knives they had purchased at a sporting goods store while Lewis was there to sign autographs.

"They said, `Hey man, look at these knives we bought,'" Lewis testified. "I said, `Hey man, y'all are trippin' with the knives.'"

But he didn't do anything about the knives. He didn't tell his buddies, his eventual co-defendants, to get rid of these potentially deadly weapons.(For the record: The knives Lewis saw in his limo were never proven to be the weapons in the killings, and his co-defendants were found not guilty. No one has gone to jail for the deaths of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker outside the Cobalt Lounge on Jan. 31. )

Lewis says he was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.

But he doesn't exactly apologize for his choice of party pals.

"What was I supposed to do?" he asks. "Background checks on my friends? Psychological profiles? I can't predict intentions."

Maybe not. But when you see your "friends" with knives - "Y'all are trippin' with the knives" - you can at least question their intentions.

Here's the part about thugs: "Did I hang around with thugs? I guess. But what does that label mean?"(Webster's Dictionary, Ray: "A person inclined to treat another roughly, brutally or murderously.")

"I come from thugs," Lewis goes on. "I grew up in drug-infested neighborhoods around robberies and people getting killed. Those people were in my life long before the people paying me now. Thugs helped me get where I am, helped raise me, and I love some of them."

Hate the sin, love the sinner. I think that's what he means.

"I'm supposed to erase everybody when I become a millionaire because the people paying me say so? Thugs were with me before I was famous, and I can't say the same thing about people running the NFL."

I got a little lost on that one. What did Ray say there? That once you're in with thugs, you're always in with thugs? That the NFL or the Ravens can't demand that a well-paid athlete, a role model, adhere to a certain code of conduct?

"Nobody is going to tell me who to hang with, not my boss, not anybody. I'm going to be my own man, make my own decisions, and some of them are going to be wrong. But I've learned a lesson. ..."

Doesn't sound like he has.

Lewis says his ordeal made him better - physically. "I'm not the same player. I'm better."

Great. He's a wonderful linebacker on a wonderful team. But is he a better man? This we still don't know.

The second chance

That was a remarkable front-page photograph of Paul Graziano, the city's new housing commissioner, and Mayor Martin O'Malley sitting together on a couch Friday, their faces angst-ridden, looking like they were waiting to see Mother Superior.

O'Malley wasted little time in deciding to give Graziano a second chance after the guy had a "very bad night" getting drunk and going homophobic at the bar in Bertha's.

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