Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ray Lewis' Legacy

Ray Lewis is indisputably a great football player and he may be the greatest middle linebacker of all time. Ever since he announced that he will retire after the Baltimore Ravens finish their playoff run, there has been a widespread outpouring of respect, admiration and even love directed at Lewis. Lewis is praised not just for his athletic skills and accomplishments but also for his leadership, his character and his humanitarian efforts. Little to no mention is made of his role in a brutal double murder. Lewis was initially one of three men charged with killing Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar outside of an Atlanta club a few hours after Super Bowl XXXIV (January 31, 2000). After several months of lying to investigators and stonewalling the prosecutors, Lewis avoided a jail sentence by pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and agreeing to testify at the trial of his co-defendants Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting.

The Fulton County medical examiner described the fatal injuries to Baker and Lollar not as random stabbings but rather as "well-directed wounds into vital areas." In other words, this was not a bar fight that got out of control with people swinging wild, uncoordinated punches but rather two cold-blooded murders. Lewis denied participating in the violence, a stance contradicted by some eyewitnesses. Ultimately, prosecutors could not prove that Lewis murdered Baker and Lollar but sworn testimony indicated that Lewis actively covered up whatever actually happened, as noted in the AP story describing Lewis' plea agreement: The bloodstained white suit Lewis wore that fateful night has never been found, Lewis' limo driver stated that Lewis told the limo passengers "Just keep your mouth shut and don't say nothing" and a limo passenger said that Lewis' girlfriend Jessica Robertson burned a photo of Lewis' entourage (thus making it very difficult for prosecutors to track down possible assailants and/or witnesses). Blood matching Baker's was found in Lewis' limo and, as part of the plea agreement, Lewis admitted that he gave a misleading statement to police in the immediate aftermath of the crime.

I don't know if Lewis is guilty of double murder but these are the facts:

1) Lewis' friends became involved in an altercation with Baker and Lollar, with Lewis present on the scene and a witness to what ensued.
2) Baker and Lollar received fatal stab wounds as a result of this altercation.
3) Lewis testified that Sweeting told him that "Every time they hit me, I hit them" and that he (Sweeting) admitted that he had a knife in his hand when he was throwing punches.
4) Lewis testified that Sweeting, Oakley and Kwame King (a third Lewis friend who was present during the violence but not charged with a crime) each bought knives at a sporting goods store one day before the Super Bowl.

If Lewis did not kill one or both murder victims it is reasonable to assume that he knows who did. Lewis participated in a cover-up for several months until he and his high-priced attorneys arranged the plea bargain that kept him out of jail and saved his football career. Oakley and Sweeting were eventually acquitted--in no small part because Lewis and his entourage provided minimal cooperation, at best, with investigators--and the double murder case has never been solved. Lewis eventually reached out of court civil settlements with the families of both victims.

We will continue to be bombarded with adoring articles and TV stories about Lewis but everyone who soaks up the Lewis hagiography should also take the time to remember Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Ray Lewis' life is not worth more than Jacinth Baker's or Richard Lollar's just because Lewis is a great football player--and while Lewis deserves praise for his work ethic and accomplishments, Baker and Lollar deserve more than just being swept down the proverbial Orwellian memory hole while media sycophants rush to not just give Lewis his due as a player but to almost canonize him as some kind of great humanitarian. Lewis is a great football player but how can one possibly atone for participating in and/or covering up a double murder?

Is it realistic to expect ESPN, the NFL Network and other media entities to devote substantial coverage to the Baker/Lollar case as Lewis' career winds down? No, it is not--but it is disgraceful that those media entities go so far overboard with their praise of Lewis the person without even mentioning that he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in an unsolved double murder. Making 10 or 15 tackles in a playoff game does not prove that you are a warrior or a leader or a hero; stopping two murders from happening--or at least telling the truth about those murders so that the killers are brought to justice and the victims' families receive some small measure of closure--is something that a warrior/leader/hero would do. More than a decade later, we are still waiting for Ray Lewis to prove that he is truly that kind of warrior/leader/hero.

Here are two stories about Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar:

'There is no justice'

Ray Lewis' Trip To The Super Bowl As A Star Kindles Renewed Anger In The Families Of 2 Men Killed After Last Year's Game


Anonymous said...

Hi David,

I agree with you that a lot of people have too easily overlooked the complexity of Lewis' legacy.

I know this is off-topic, but I hope you won't mind me asking this question here (since there aren't any other recent posts by you about the NFL). As someone who has long admired the Belichick/Brady Patriots, what do you make of their performance in recent years? Do you think they have come up short too often against teams they were favored to beat? How has your view of them changed, if at all? If I recall correctly, you stated after their 2008 Super Bowl loss that you expected them to win two more Super Bowls at some point. It'd be interesting to read your thoughts.

- Vednam

David Friedman said...


Good to hear from you again. I am not looking forward to how the mainstream media will cover Ray Lewis for the next two weeks and I really hope that this turns into the Colin Kaepernick story by the end of the Super Bowl.

I just posted an article that touches on the subject of the Patriots' performances in recent seasons. I certainly respect the Patriots' consistency, I did expect them to win multiple Super Bowls after the 2007 season and I still think that the Belichick/Brady tandem has a great shot to win at least one more Super Bowl but it is undeniable that the Patriots have been a disappointing postseason team ever since winning the 2004 championship; Brady is just 7-7 in his last 14 playoff games, including two Super Bowl losses as the favorite plus last weekend's home loss in the AFC Championship Game as a huge favorite (even though the Patriots probably should not have been quite as heavily favored as they were).

Brady has not performed as consistently well in the postseason as he did earlier in his career, the Patriots have suffered some key injuries prior to big games and I also think that the Patriots need to be a bit more physical on both sides of the ball. Belichick is still a great strategic coach but it seems like teams that are very physical (the Giants, the Ravens) are able to push the Patriots around. The Patriots' teams that won Super Bowls were very physical, with Corey Dillon running the ball and Rodney Harrison et. al. intimidating opposing wide receivers. Rules changes may have curbed physicality overall but teams like the Ravens, the Giants and the 49ers have figured out how to be physical without incurring too many penalties and/or fines.