Sports With Shook: Before you adore, consider the past

Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell is escorted onto the field by linebacker Ray Lewis (52) before the Ravens faced San Diego Sunday, December 10, 2000. Photo by George Bridges/KRT.

Nick Shook

Nick Shook

Nick Shook is a junior news major, sports columnist and sports editor for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

When the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers won their respective conference championship games Sunday, media members rejoiced.

Jim Harbaugh versus his brother, John Harbaugh, in the Super Bowl. The story is already right there, landing right in the laps of writers!

But wait, there’s more!

Ray Lewis, the much-adored linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens, says he will retire at the conclusion of this season. Very Jerome Bettis of him, right?

Lewis decided to keep such an announcement under wraps until the beginning of the playoffs, when he made his unexpected return from a torn triceps to record 13 tackles in an AFC Wild Card victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Words of praise and honor followed the announcement, and plenty of folks were quick to say how happy they were that Lewis’ career could continue for at least one more postseason game.

Lewis and the rest of the Ravens are back in the Super Bowl, for the first time in 12 years and I could not be convinced to support them in any possible fashion.

Now, you might just chalk this up to me being a Browns fan, and you’ll likely assume that I am just bitter because the Ravens were once the Browns. You’ll tell me to move on, that time has passed, and I have my franchise back again, anyway — but I’ll tell you that you’re wrong.

This goes beyond those statements. These next two weeks will be filled with media-driven, sickening amounts of love and adoration for one man involved with the Ravens. That man is Ray Lewis.

Lewis has taken it upon himself and his preacher-like persona to shape the Ravens into a team of destiny, even going as far as quoting Isaiah 54:17, saying “no weapon formed against [you] shall prosper.”

“Man believes in the possible,” Lewis said, “and God believes in the impossible.”

Lewis may be a God-fearing and faithful man — he sure comes off as one. But considering his past actions, I find it hard to believe. And that’s not even half of the problem.

Lewis was the second draft selection in the history of the Baltimore Ravens in 1996 from Miami, Fla. He earned Pro Bowl honors in his second season, and by the time Jan. 31, 2000 rolled around; he was a three-time Pro Bowler and first team All-Pro selection.

He was, also, involved in a double murder on the night of Jan. 31, 2000.

In short, Lewis was outside of a nightclub in Atlanta, Ga., and mere hours after the conclusion of the Super Bowl, he and his friends were getting ready to depart. His group of friends and a group of friends from Akron, Ohio crossed paths, and a fight broke out.

The fight left two men, Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, near death in the street.

Baker died in the street from multiple stab wounds to his upper body, and Lollar died from five stab wounds, including two in the heart, while on the way to the hospital.

Witnesses varied in their testimony regarding the event. Some said they saw Lewis throw a punch, and others said they didn’t.

Lewis and his friends, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, jumped into a 40-foot rented Lincoln Navigator limo and sped off as shots were fired in their direction. A witness claimed Lewis said, “I’m not ending my career like this,” while in the back of the bloodstained limo.

The limo driver claims he heard Lewis tell Oakley and Sweeting to “just keep your mouth shut, and don’t say nothing.”

Lewis was wearing a white suit that night. The suit was never found.

Lewis supplied misleading information to investigators and later made an untrue statement after his arrest. The three were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury on two counts each of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Lewis took a plea bargain with the prosecutor for a lesser charge for obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor, in exchange for his testimony against his co-defendants. He received a year of probation from the court and a $250,000 fine from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

His testimony, as expected, did not incriminate his two friends. Oakley and Sweeting, each facing a life sentence, were acquitted of murder and assault charges. No new suspects were named, and the case essentially went cold. According to the court, no one killed the two men from Akron.

You might be wondering why I’m bringing this up.

Lewis has been treated as a football god for much of his career, and the support has never been stronger than now. His impending retirement, combined with the Ravens’ run to the Super Bowl, has intensified the love for Ray Lewis.

And I’m here to remind everyone of the two dead men from whom Lewis had a limo driver speed away on Jan. 31, 2000.

I cannot justify glorifying a man who did such a deed. Even if he didn’t actually stab either of these men, he had a direct role in the murder of the two.

Lewis came to undisclosed financial settlements with the families of the two victims. He promised to meet with them after the trial was complete, but never did.

People seem to forgive and forget these facts so easily, just because he is a great linebacker. And don’t get me wrong — Lewis is the greatest linebacker of this generation, and one of the greatest of all-time. His statistics and on-field legacy prove it.

But I cannot stand the praise, adoration and love for a man who knowingly left two men in a street to die.

I may again be tagged as a jealous Browns fan — but trust me, this goes way beyond football. I love the game, but I will not allow it to be used as an excuse to give a man a pass on his involvement in two deaths.

I know Lewis was never convicted. But two families in Akron likely can’t accept that, and neither can I.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected]. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickShookDKS, and be sure to tune into Black Squirrel Radio’s top-rated sports show, “Sports With Shook,” on Fridays from 2 to 4 p.m. Follow the show @SportsWithShook and like the show’s Facebook page.