R. Lewis fails to tackle remorse

January 24, 2001|By John Eisenberg

TAMPA, Fla. - Ray Lewis had a chance to make the rest of his life a lot easier. All he had to do was give the Super Bowl media what they wanted yesterday. A dash of humility. A pinch of remorse. A pang of regret over his role in the unsolved double homicide that occurred after last year's Super Bowl in Atlanta.

He wouldn't do it.

"I'm not here to please the country," Lewis said during an hour-long session with reporters at Raymond James Stadium.

Too bad.

It wouldn't have taken much from him to drain a lot of the emotion from a tragic, volatile issue that lacks resolution and, thus, continues to simmer, casting a shadow over Lewis' on-field magic.

"It was a terrible thing that happened," he could have said, "and anyone dying is more important than any football game, and I'm just so sorry about it all."

He has said that before in so many words, although not as often as some might want. He has expressed regret, although not as often as he has cast himself as the victim.

All he had to do yesterday was offer a reprise of that regret, the least anyone in his position should offer as the families of the victims cry about injustice on the first anniversary of the incident.

But Lewis wouldn't play along, didn't blink, didn't give a darn what anyone might think of him after the hour was up.

If he wasn't openly defiant, he was close.

"I could sit down and give y'all the story," he said, "but you'd change it all around."

If he didn't appear completely lacking in remorse, he was close.

"Do you want to say anything to the families [of the victims]?" he was asked.

"Nah," he said.

What that says about him, well, you can make your own judgments. He's certainly his own man, no one's phony. And he has so much pride that he's incapable of playing by anyone else's rules, even when his image is at stake.

But the shame is you know he feels remorse for the two men who died. You could even hear it if you listened closely enough yesterday.

"This [media circus] isn't about those two kids lying dead in the street, this is about Ray Lewis - and that's not right," he said.

And then: "Don't be mad at me because I was on center stage. The people to be mad at are [Fulton County, Ga., district attorney] Paul Howard and the mayor of Atlanta and the people who never cared at one time to find out who killed those people. They said, `We're going to get Ray Lewis,' but Ray Lewis was never the guy."

He's right about that in one sense, being not guilty of the murder charges Howard leveled against him despite flimsy evidence. But he did plead guilty to obstruction of justice, and he did lie to police, and he did consort with thugs. He did play a role, whatever it was.

So why not be more generous of heart now, when others with so much less are still hurting? Would it have hurt to use yesterday's unparalleled platform to voice compassion rather than to continue portraying himself, a man with so much, as another victim?

Apparently so.

"If you put Ray Lewis at the center of attention, then how much media attention do you get?" he asked cynically about the prosecutors' motives.

And Lewis and the Ravens want this issue to dry up and go away?

It won't as long as they keep this up.

Lewis said last June that he wanted to put it all behind him, but then he agreed to a tell-all interview with ESPN The Magazine and landed on the cover. Was that any way to put it all behind him?

Then Ravens coach Brian Billick opened his initial Super Bowl interview Monday with an insulting harangue of the media's recent coverage of the case, accusing those who have gone back and interviewed the victim's families of "ambulance chasing."

Thanks for the journalism lecture, coach. Now back to your chalkboard.

Billick was just taking up for his star, of course, and his habit of doing that for all of his players is one of the reasons they play so hard for him on Sundays. He might be older than them, but they see him as one of their own, a no-holds-barred trash-talker.

Don't think for a moment that Billick's outburst wasn't about that to some degree, enhancing loyalty and togetherness in the locker room.

But his thinly veiled attempt to take the heat for Lewis backfired, significantly increasing the interest - and tension - in Lewis' interview yesterday. That doomed Lewis in a sense, because he had never talked much about the incident and wasn't going to start now.

Too bad.

This was the perfect opportunity to start changing the minds of fans across the country who might appreciate his play but wonder about his character.

As much as we expect a lot of our star athletes, we tend to grant second and third chances to those who make mistakes, as long as they show a little contrition and, like the rest of us, seem to learn from the experience.

Giants quarterback Kerry Collins showed the way in his interview session Monday night, displaying total accountability on his prior problems with alcohol and accusations that he made racist statements.

"I regret it," he said of the latter, "and I certainly wish it never had happened."

That was all Lewis needed to say yesterday. That the whole thing was terrible and he was so sorry it happened.

Just a dash of humility. Just a moment of earnest reflection in the glare of the Super Bowl spotlight. It would have made Lewis' life easier, more than he knows.

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