J. Lewis faces two-game suspension

Frustration finds fallen star

October 08, 2004|By Laura Vecsey

CONSIDERING his situation, it wasn't surprising Jamal Lewis was the only Ravens player visibly repulsed by Monday night's loss to Kansas City.

Defensive stars Ed Reed and Ray Lewis all but shrugged off the physical whipping by the Chiefs. Quarterback Kyle Boller speed-talked through a list of cliches.

Jamal Lewis, meanwhile, stood in the middle of a scrum, agitated. He spewed an emphatic stream of consciousness -- most of it frustration. He wanted the ball. He wants to win.

Funny how a man gets stricken with a heightened sense of urgency when facing prison.

As well he should.

Maybe a millionaire football star only appreciates the specialness of his talent and job title when there's the threat of an untimely end.

Yesterday, Lewis stood up in a federal courtroom in Atlanta and told the judge he's guilty.

He used his cellular phone to set up a drug deal.

There were other charges against him, but Lewis' attorneys bargained with the federal prosecutors so Lewis could avoid the risk of a messy trial and a chance he could call his career over and out.

It's hard to rush for 2,000 yards when you've been sentenced to prison for a minimum of 10 years.

That's what Lewis initially faced, until his attorneys agreed to let Lewis testify against his friend, Angelo Jackson, in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Either the prosecutors packaged the indictment against Lewis in such a fashion that no jury would dismiss all the charges, or maybe Lewis was facing a jury not of his peers but one plucked from some suburban county outside Atlanta.

Either way, it became inevitable that after first professing his innocence during his arraignment last February, Lewis had to admit guilt.

You don't mess around with 10 years in jail, not when you were on the scene, hooking up a buddy with a shady character allegedly aiming to sell five kilos of cocaine.

For this kind of criminal behavior, we did not need Lewis' NFL coach telling us we should reserve judgment on Lewis, who did nothing except have a "serious lapse in judgment."

A mere 20-year-old college junior, Brian Billick said.

The war on drugs has its flaws, including a prison system filled more than 50 percent with drug offenders. But these are the rules of this game. Twenty years into the crackdown on drugs, everyone ought to understand the rules and the risks.

If Billick can whitewash the lack of a Ravens offense and perpetuate the myth that his team does not require a minimum standard of humility, he's certainly capable of trying to minimize the mess Jamal Lewis made of his life -- however temporary that mess may now be.

But to ignore the taint that Lewis' drug charges cast on everything with which Lewis is associated is like trying to chop block our sense of decency and compromise the alleged joy of being a football fan.

The mess Lewis is in only adds to the bad-boy aura of the Ravens, who at times seem to revel in their thug persona.

Billick might believe that mind-set serves the team's "Us vs. the World" purpose. It's a cheap tactic, but it works. That doesn't mean it's not good for Baltimore, the NFL or even the entire genre of popular sports culture.

One man's serious lapse of judgment is another man's criminal behavior -- or so say federal prosecutors.

It's not good. It's not excusable. In fact, it's bad.

For that, Lewis ought not to appeal the suspension and any fine levied against him by the NFL.

Whether it's standard operating procedure by "union members" to appeal suspensions doesn't matter. Individual rights aren't the issue here. Integrity, humility, penance, these things are.

Jamal Lewis isn't just another young man who apparently spent too much time hanging with the wrong crowd. He is an NFL star. He makes millions to run the football for the Ravens.

His face is on cover of magazines and media guides. His name helps sell expensive tickets.

In Baltimore, where sports teams are part of the city's collective culture, we're all brought down when something unsavory or illegal takes place.

We talk about it. We wonder if we can or should rationalize it. The Ravens need Lewis against Washington, right? A youthful indiscretion, that's all it was.

Except that Lewis was a major college player who had already been drafted into the NFL, guaranteed a salary from the Ravens for being a first-round pick.

What kind of fool can't distinguish between right and wrong, especially being so close to economic freedom?

Old habits may die hard. Old friends may be hard to ignore, but how do you rationalize the decision of a 20-year-old man agreeing to broker a cocaine deal? With his guilty plea, Lewis got a four-month prison sentence.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons talked about life in a minimum-security facility. Sometimes they're called "Camp Cupcake," like the place Martha Stewart checks into.

But it's not sugar and spice or anything nice. It's a work camp. Six a.m. wake-up, breakfast at 6:30. The work call goes out at 7:30, with most facilities located near Air Force bases for prisoners to do support work.

"They're work camps, with stand-up counts of prisoners every afternoon at 4:15," spokeswoman Carla Wilson said.

No wonder Lewis was the player most upset about the Ravens' loss Monday night.

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