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Outside the Lines: Ray Lewis and the lessons learned.

Outside the Lines: Ray Lewis on Trial

Announcer: June 11th, 2000.

Bob Ley, Host: It was violent and horrific, a street brawl leaving two men stabbed to death.


Ray Lewis, Ravens Linebacker: There was a gang of people just -- I don't -- I don't know how many people it was. I just seen them out there in the streets fighting.


Ley: and an NFL star charged with murder. But in a dramatic turn, the star made a deal, turned state's witness, and walked out of court a free man.


Lewis: Everybody had their things to say, but, you know, I have someone who's a higher authority, which is God, and that's who's always been on my side.


Ley: But, Friday, even fate could not bring Ray Lewis to acknowledge his mistake, to apologize. There was instead anger.


Unidentified correspondent: Are you going to be able to fully get back the focus in your football?

Lewis: I think I'll be more pissed off to hit somebody.


Ley: Today, on Outside the Lines, Ray Lewis and the NFL. Is this case really over?

Announcer: Outside the Lines is presented by 1-800-CALL-ATT. Joining us from ESPN Studios, Bob Ley.

Ley: This may all boil down to a simple calculation, what does Ray Lewis owe the NFL, and what does the league owe its fans and customers, a simple calculation but devilishly impossible to answer in concrete terms.

The NFL has taken a public-relations hit. Consider that with former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth jailed and awaiting trial for murder, team owner Jerry Richardson this past week acknowledged there are voices in his community questioning if the city would be better off without professional sports.

The NFL has yet to determine if, under its personal-conduct policy, Ray Lewis should be fined, but it has decided he will not be suspended. A suspension would have cost Lewis an estimated $400,000 per game. Consider that Latrell Sprewell was suspended by the NBA for attacking his coach, and Sprewell lost nearly $6-1/2 million in salary.

The NFL has shown it can act decisively in the face of public reaction. Last season, in less than two months, it eradicated the celebration fad of throat slashing with the threat of fines. But that involved on-field action seen by a television audience.

As we said, after-hours conduct is not a simple calculation. If the case of Ray Lewis is a cautionary tale for NFL players and a test of the league's policy, then it remains to be seen what Lewis himself has learned and whether the NFL's policy is a deterrent, even, as Sal Paolantonio reports, whether Lewis can get passed his decision, the decision that made him a free man.


Sal Paolantonio, ESPN correspondent (voice-over): Last Sunday morning, Ray Lewis got an unexpected phone call from his attorney, Ed Garland. The Fulton County DA was willing to dismiss the murder charges against Lewis, but there was a catch. In addition to pleading guilty to obstructing the police, Lewis would have to testify against his two former friends and co-defendants and, as in Hollywood, the unwritten code of the streets is that you don't squeal on your friends.


Robert Di Niro, Actor: You took your first piss like a man, and you learned the two greatest things in life.

Christopher Serrone, Actor: What?

De Niro: Look at me. Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.


Paolantonio (on camera): You remember that scene from "Goodfellas." Well, whether it's the mob or, in the case of some professional athletes, a posse, the code of silence is the golden rule.

(voice-over): It's that code, friends say, that Ray Lewis didn't want to break when he lied to police after the fatal Super Bowl night fight. By not breaking that code, he wound up in the middle of a murder case. Eventually, Lewis realized he had only one way out: talk.

Rev. Richard Harris, Mountain Mover Ministries: We stayed up until 3:00 in the morning going over the ramifications of -- well, you know, his -- his plea. So one of the things -- and his mother brought this to his attention. "Ray," you know, "I just got a call, and people are saying," you know -- and I don't know how the word got out, but it got out that fast that he was going -- he had copped a plea or whatever or agreed to a plea, and the people were saying, well, he's -- you know, he's a snitch, and that was the word she used.

Ozzie Newsome, Ravens VP of Player Personnel: It's nothing wrong with that. You know, it maybe goes against the code, but you have to become selfish in order to maintain your life, sometime to say no and be strong with it. It's -- it's -- it sound tough to say it, but that's the toughness that you have to have in order to prevent yourself from being in an ordeal like he went through.

Brian Billick, Ravens Head Coach: Ultimately, you've got to conduct yourself in a moral and ethical way, that if those around you choose not to have that same moral and ethical perspective, then -- then that's something that they're going to have to deal with.

Paolantonio: In the often insular world of professional athletics, what Lewis did has no precedent, and that has led to some pretty defiant rationalizations.

Billick: I'm not comfortable with the concept that Ray, in doing what he did, was ratting out or snitching or bailing out on -- on some companions. I think Ray, because of the nature of the situation, realistically just told what he saw as the truth.

Lewis: Did I really turn against them, or did I just tell the truth? To turn against somebody is having involvement in something and then turn your back on them to get yourself out of it. I never did anything.

Harris: It's a wakeup call, and that wakeup call is "Fellas, you've got to be more careful about who you associate with and you have to be more careful about where you go, when you go, and of the circumstances that you go.

Paolantonio: Players around the league have watched this trial and said to you, "I'm changing my life."

Harris: Absolutely. Absolutely. Corey Fuller, William Floyd, Derrick Brooks, Devin Bush. I mean, the list -- Derrick Alexander. These are guys who are saying, "Hey, Rev, look -- look here. We've got to put something together."

Ernest Byner, Ravens Dir. of Player Development: There's an awareness that the -- that has come about because of this trial, because of this situation, and because of Rae -- Rae Carruth's situation and because of other incidents that are happening in the league.

Paolantonio (voice-over): Nevertheless, authorities in the Carruth case indicate they hope what Lewis did has ramifications in the murder prosecution of the former Panthers' wide receiver. Prosecutors there have reportedly offered Carruth a plea deal for testimony against the members of his posse.

(on camera): In the wake of the Lewis and Carruth cases, the NFL has spent months trying to figure out how to tighten the reins on its players without running afoul of the collective bargaining agreement or just plain common sense. The biggest problem: dictating behavior and limiting associations away from the game.

Billick: I would challenge anybody to find an industry that has spent more time and resources trying to school and educate their employees about the environment that they exist in against these types of things than does the NFL collectively and the teams individually. I -- I don't believe you'll be able to find that. By the same token, I think we also have to understand that we could increase those efforts tenfold, and there are still going to be problems.

Paolantonio (voice-over): Though he's had a central role in all of this, Lewis remains defiant and angry that his judgment would be questioned. At his press conference on Friday, he challenged the media to hold themselves to the same standard.

Lewis: I think, in reality, what it all boils down to is, if everybody has done a background check on their -- all of their friends, I think they'll find dirt, too, that you don't look for, that you don't know about, no matter who you know.

Paolantonio: What prosecutors found out about Lewis' two former co-defendants, Reginald OakLey and Joseph Sweeting, was that both were convicted felons. Those close to Lewis say he knows he must make better choices, and that process began when he testified against his two -- shall we say -- former friends.

Harris: What he's learned from all of this is that he has to be very, very careful about who he allows in his inner circle or inner sanctum. There's nothing wrong with having a posse. We -- you know, we said that all along, and he understands that, but just -- it's like Jesus narrowed his down to 12, and maybe Ray has to narrow his down to even fewer than that.

Newsome: As athletes, I mean, you're helping your family, you're helping your friends, and you don't want to say no, and you want everybody to like you, but you got to develop that selfishness to say, "No, I can't do it," and have a very simple life.

Paolantonio (on camera): Do you think Ray learned that lesson?

Newsome: I'm hoping Ray learned that lesson. We'll find out starting on Monday when he comes in here and starts back playing football.

Paolantonio: Every day after the trial in Atlanta, Ray Lewis would work out with new teammate Shannon Sharpe, but adjusting to life in pads after time in cuffs will be the first of many challenges Lewis must now face. Ravens' camp for veterans begins Monday.

For Outside the Lines, I'm Sal Paolantonio.


Ley: And when we continue, I'll talk live with a senior national football league official, a veteran player, and a columnist critical of the league's handling of the Ray Lewis matter.

Announcer: Outside the Lines is presented by 1-800-CALL-ATT for collect calls.


Ley: Our topic: Ray Lewis and the National Football League.

Joining us from Washington, Harold Henderson, the National Football League's executive vice president for labor relations; from Atlanta, Lincoln Kennedy, an offensive tackle with the Oakland Raiders; and from Washington, Christine Brennan, a sports columnist "USA Today." She also contributes to ABC News and to ESPN Radio.

Harold, if I can begin with you, did the league simply believe that Ray Lewis had suffered enough in this ordeal of facing the murder charges and, thus, no suspension?

Harold Henderson, NFL Labor Relations Executive V.P.: Well, as much as that, I think it's a matter of having the punishment fit the crime, and when we look at what we know Ray's true involvement was in those incidents down in Atlanta, it looked as if a suspension was probably more than was warranted.

Ley: You know the calculus, though, Harold, that's being made. You have two players suspended from their involvement in a bar fight, O'Dwyer -- Jumbo Elliott, Matt O'Dwyer -- and you have someone lying to the police in a double-murder investigation.

Henderson: Well, I think the distinction there has to be drawn between the differences in physical involvement. In one case, you had a person who, for whatever reasons, maybe fear or pro -- seeking to protect friends or whatever his reasons at the time, wasn't completely forthcoming with the police officers, and another person who was physically confronting police officers, other citizens in a confrontation in a bar. There's a difference there.

Ley: Christine, do you see that difference?

Christine Brennan, USA Today columnist: No, I think it -- it's a fine line, I guess. I don't know. I think the NFL's making a huge mistake here. I believe that Ray Lewis should be suspended. I think he should be suspended for a year. I think that the NFL will live to regret this lack of action. If there's a -- a fine, my goodness, that's a little slap on the wrist for a man making, what, $24 million over -- over four years.

So I think the NFL's lack of action is reprehensible, and I'm shocked that the NFL is -- is choosing to do this, and -- and you know what? If you lose to the union, you lose to the union. Fight the battle. Do the right thing. Middle America is looking for an answer here from the NFL, and I think the NFL is really missing the mark in this case.

Ley: Lincoln, your take on this.

Lincoln Kennedy, Raiders Offensive Tackle: Well, Bob, to tell you the truth, I -- I believe that -- just as Harold said, I think every situation, every instance is unique itself, and it needs to be approached that way. I -- I don't -- you know, if the court system finds a man innocent or -- or whatever of a lesser crime or something like that, then no suspension is necessary. I believe that everyone makes mistakes, sometimes you get caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time, but each situation is different.

Ley: Harold, how could the commissioner during the trial, before anything had come to light in terms of a plea-bargain for this obstruction charge, make the determination and, basically, tell the media that if he was acquitted of murder, Lewis would not be suspended?

Henderson: Well -

Ley: Isn't that prejudging the case?

Henderson: Well, I don't think he prejudged the case. I think that the facts were being developed, and as the trial progressed, things were known to -- to him and all the rest of us who read the paper and watch the television. I think that what he was saying then is based on the information that he had at the time. On the facts that he knew, a suspension probably would not be appropriate but more than likely a fine.

Ley: Lincoln, all this public discussion of player conduct -- do you sometimes feel, as a card-carrying member of the union, as an eight-year veteran of the league, that players are just living under an increasing microscope, whether you're a good guy, a bad guy, or neutral?

Kennedy: Well, I agree with the media attention that's going on. I mean, you can't very well walk out your house and pick up the paper without somebody making notice of it or -- or turning up if you -- you know, you come out in an inappropriate manner, it will definitely be in the papers. So there is a microscope that's around the league, not only for NFL athletes but professional athletes in general.

Brennan: But, Lincoln, isn't that exactly the -- the course of action, the life you've chosen? I mean, you could do something else and avoid the media scrutiny. So could Ray Lewis. And once you're in that privileged world -- and -- and deservedly so -- don't you actually understand the fact that that's going to be the fishbowl you're in?

Kennedy: Eventually, you understand it, but sometimes it takes a humbling experience for you to recognize that you are under a general microscope. You know, sometimes it's hard for a gentleman coming out of college having their first couple years in the league to -- to separate their old life, from their past and their growing up, because they want to do right by their friends, by the people around them. They want to be a part of -- they want to have their -- their circles tighter or closer and be able to enjoy the finer fruits of life with their friends. Sometimes it's hard to walk away from those things.

Ley: Well, if players are changing and -- as Reverend Lewis suggested in the piece -- the spiritual adviser -- how physically and how tangibly can players change? What, do you just take numbers out of a PalmPilot, take them out of your cellphone? How do you -- how do you separate yourself like -

Kennedy: Well -- well, I mean, Bob, I think it's -- it's different for every person.

You know, personally, for me, it took me to get married. After a humbling experience, it took me to get married and just to devote myself to a family and to leave all my friends behind and realize that there's nothing -- night life out there -- there's no reason to be out on the streets and stuff like that.

But every person is different. I can't speak for every athlete because you have to find out what is -- what could be considered troubling, where you can go wrong, and you have to change it.

Ley: Harold, let me ask you specifically what you intend to make of the Lewis case as the teams make their presentations in this pre-season. I know every team's security makes their presentation. What specifically should me made of the Lewis case when talking to players right now in the Year 2000?

Henderson: Well, it's more than just in the pre-season. It will be a continuing message throughout the year, and I -- in fact, I hope that Ray will see fit to come forward and help us carry this message, particularly to younger players. It's an educational process. There are dangers out there. There are down sides to these associations, and players really need to be aware of who they hang around with and -- and what these people are into and govern themselves accordingly.

Brennan: But, Harold, wasn't that setup piece by Sal -- wasn't that troubling, the fact that there was such a lack of contrition in Ray Lewis' statements? I mean, where was the apology? Where's the sense that he has been humbled, as Lincoln said? I certainly didn't hear that in what -- in what I just heard in Sal's piece.

Ley: Harold, how would you typify Lewis at that press conference?

Henderson: Well, I didn't actually see the press conference, but I would have to say I could understand why a young man would have some very confused feelings and some anger and other kinds of emotions coming out of this, having been grabbed and handcuffed and charged with murder charges and put through a trial of this nature and have it come out that he really, as he said in the beginning, had nothing personally to do with bringing any harm to any people. His only crime, if there's a crime involved, was being with people who got involved in something, whatever they turned out to have done, but there's no evidence he did anything to anybody.

Ley: Well, he did plead to a crime. He pled to misdemeanor obstruction.

We're going to pick up there on the league's policy. We'll continue in just a moment with Harold Henderson, with Lincoln Kennedy, and with Christine Brennan, as we consider Ray Lewis and the National Football League on Outside the Lines.



Lewis: I faced fourth down and ones a lot of times, and, you know, I have guys who know that I'm going to step up in that position, but when it's fourth down and life, you don't know what to do in that situation.


Ley: More now on Ray Lewis and the National Football League.

Our guests: Harold Henderson of the league, Lincoln Kennedy from the Oakland Raiders, and columnist Christine Brennan from "USA Today."

Folks, I've got a quote. I'll read it to you. We'll put it up for the people at home. This is Art Modell back in January before the incidents in Buckhead.

"You can't outlaw misbehavior. It's a policy that at best may focus attention on it," speaking of the league's policy. "But let's be honest. I don't know if it works. It," the league policy, "is not a deterrent."

Then just last week, Modell said, "If every player who was charged with a misdemeanor in the National Football League was suspended, we'd be playing with four-man rosters."

Obviously, Harold, Art was making a bit of a joke in that second remark, but doesn't that indicate the depth of the problem and also Modell's opinion about how effective the policy is?

Henderson: Well, I think it's clear that it was a joke, a gross exaggeration in terms of the numbers there, but I think it's important to note that our players are trending in the other direction as far as incidents involving criminal conduct or concern. We've experienced a 20-percent decline over the last three years. So, except for highly noteworthy, serious cases out there, in general, the trend is going down.

Brennan: Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? I mean, Harold, I -- this -- is the NFL becoming the National Apology League? I mean, what I heard you say before the break stunned me. There is a murder. There are two dead bodies, and this man lies for four months, the length of a regular football season -- pro-football season, and you're saying, "Well, OK," you know, "I understand that he's a little upset."

I -- I mean, the world has turned upside down. If this is your perspective, you are so out of touch with what's going on in -- in the country and -- frankly, walk into a supermarket and talk to a mom with three little kids who are future NFL season ticket holders. They -- they are so turned off right now.

Your ratings are fine. Your sponsorship, I'm sure, is holding up, and it's great. But I think, frankly, Bob, you know, we look at this 10, 20, 30, 50 years from now -- when history is written, we'll look at this period of time and see the NFL's inaction as one of the great mistakes in professional sports. That's my take on it.

Ley: Harold, go ahead and respond.

Henderson: Yeah. Christine, let me say two things about that. Number one, from -- from day two, Ray was advised by -- by legal counsel, and everything he did or said was at the advice of his lawyer there, and anybody who's involved in the legal process and particularly the criminal side of it knows the significance of that.

Number two, this is not about sacrificing a player to send a message. This is about looking at what's appropriate for what the player actually did. We don't have a problem with the union on this. We've talked to Gene Upshaw, and whatever discipline the commissioner imposes, he is the final appeal in these cases.

We're not the kind of -- we don't have an organization where the commissioner can banish the guy for life or give him five years, and then some arbitrator's going to come back and do what's reasonable. He has to be reasonable from the very start.

And in addition to that, we're dealing with a commissioner who also brings, in addition to his legal background, a fair amount of compassion to the table. He tries to understand all that's going on here and do what's right the first time.

Ley: Lincoln, do you think it's an unfair cry for a pound of flesh from Ray Lewis? Do you think this is almost a mob media mentality?

Henderson: I certainly think

Kennedy: As long as I

Henderson: I think that's the case, and I don't

Ley: Let me address that to Lincoln, if I could please, Harold.

Kennedy: Well, I mean, I -- Bob, I think that with all the attention over the last couple of years that -- the bad media publicity that a lot of, you know, professional athletes have got, and then -- from the Mark Chmura case even all the way back to the O.J. Simpson case, I think there's a lot of people out there who are really crying for -- for something because they think professional football players are just getting away with everything, and I honestly believe there's -- there's too much media attention, and there's too much attention because of past experiences that are brought to the current people.

And -- and like I said, every situation is different. Every situation is unique. We don't know enough about the -- we don't know enough about these unique situations to make a comment, and -- and, all of a sudden, the football players are feeling the -- the drastic poundage of -- of the media attention and the public outcry for justice, and all that stuff is coming down on us when somebody happened to make a mistake. Ray was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he was the target because a lot of people in that area knew who he was.

Ley: Let me ask you quickly, Lincoln, do you think Ray Lewis, though, owed it to fans to say the two words I don't think I heard him say Friday which I -- are "I'm sorry."

Kennedy: I think there was a lot of hostility in Ray's voice at the press conference, but at the fact -- the fact that he was relieved that he was home, that he had to stay in jail for something, and when he got up on the stand, from what I saw, he still didn't give the prosecutors anything. So, I mean, what -- from the story that he told when he was on the stand, all that time spending in jail for that -- for that little bit of information?

I don't know if I would have held a press conference as soon after coming home. I would have probably waited for a while to let my nerves calm down. There was a lot of hostility in his -- in Ray's voice, from what I heard.

Ley: OK. Thank you all very much. We've run out of time. Our thanks this morning to Harold Henderson, to Lincoln Kennedy, and to Christine Brennan. We appreciate your being with us this morning.

We will take a look now at an emotional topic and the responses as we continue on Outside the Lines.


Ley: Last Sunday's program focused on the power of one word, a high school football coach directing a racial epithet at one of his players, and it began months of fallout from that one word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, Outside the Lines, JUNE 4TH, 2000)

Jeremy Schaap, ESPN correspondent: Are you suggesting you used that slur, directed it at him in the locker room that day, to help him?

Gary Hughes, Head Football Coach, Wildwood High School: Exactly. Exactly.

Schaap: How could that help?

Hughes: A guy told me, who's a minister -- he said, "Choosing the exact words of a sermon is absolutely critical to the sermon. If you don't speak to the audience on their own level, they miss the message.


Ley: Our e-mail response, including a viewer from New York who said, "Whites should understand using any epithet toward a person of color cannot be dismissed by apology, that every relationship is changed from that moment. It makes you wonder did the word merely slip out or is that what this person thought of you all along."

A viewer in Kentucky urging a follow-up, citing his frustration at the refusal of black civil rights leaders to seek positive outcomes. If the coach in our story was a racist, "then there must be other incidents to show a pattern. If he's not, then why can't he be forgiven? Let's hear more from the general community or more black parents of football players."

From an African-American viewer in Florida, "Before black people can hold this man accountable, we must first address the issue among ourselves. The only way the word can be eliminated from the vernacular is to eliminate it from everyday speech period. Until then, it's hypocritical to be offended by the word when spoken from white lips if it's not offensive when spoken from brown ones."

We would like to hear from you. The key word at -- type it in -- "otlweekly." On our site, you will find video and transcripts from this and past programs and also a way to register your feedback. Our e-mail address: Thanks for your feedback.

Announcer: Outside the Lines is presented by 1-800-CALL-ATT for collect calls.


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 ESPN's Bob Ley is joined by Rev. Darryl Strickland and Joseph Foster to discuss high school football and race.
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