When Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis walks off the field after Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers in New Orleans Nov. 3, he will leave a legacy as one of the greatest players of all time.
Off the field, however, questions remain about the 13-time Pro Bowl selection, Super Bowl XXXV MVP, and future Hall of Famer despite numerous charitable works and a reputation for being an inspiration to his team.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 31, 2000 after Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta, two men, Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker, died of stab wounds after a fight with members of Lewis’ entourage outside a nightclub. Lewis and two friends, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were charged with murder.
Lewis later agreed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for the prosecution dropping murder charges against him. As part of the deal, Lewis testified against Oakley and Sweeting, who were subsequently acquitted of murder charges.
I did an article on Lewis’ dual legacy of being a great player and having the stain of the murder trial. I interviewed Priscilla Lollar, the mother of slain victim Richard Lollar; Oakley, and the lawyer who represented Lewis in the case, Ed Garland. Lollar holds Lewis responsible for the death of her son. Oakley said Lewis started the incident with a verbal argument, and Garland said Lewis was truthful once he made the plea bargain (after he misled authorities).
It seems to me that Lewis has gotten tons of praise and virtually no criticism in the past decade or more. It’s only now that the Ravens are in the Super Bowl that people are bringing up the trial again, which had been largely forgotten, just like the victims in the case. Lewis has carefully cultivated a persona of being a spiritual, inspirational leader, and it doesn’t hurt that he is emotional, passionate, and expressive, which is always good for TV.