|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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Ley: But, Friday, even fate could not bring Ray Lewis to
acknowledge his mistake, to apologize. There was instead anger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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
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
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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
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
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
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
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
Ley: Well, he did plead to a crime. He pled to misdemeanor
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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
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
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
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.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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
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."
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