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Lewis’s Legend: Hero or Murderer?

Ray Lewis will take the field one last time during the Super Bowl on February 3 in New Orleans.
Ray Lewis will take the field one last time during the Super Bowl on February 3 in New Orleans. Photo by Flickr user Keith Allison.

On Jan. 2, 2013, future first-ballot Hall of Famer Ray Lewis announced his planned retirement from the National Football League once his 17th season with the Baltimore Ravens concludes. The legendary linebacker has made 13 Pro Bowl appearances, earning the AP Defensive Player of the Year award twice as well as the Most Valuable Player award for the 2001 Super Bowl. Although I salute Lewis’s accomplishments on the gridiron, the tragic events off the field of Jan. 31, 2000 overshadow Lewis’s statistical success.

Outside of an Atlanta nightclub, Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar were stabbed to death after a brawl involving Lewis and two of his companions, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting. In fleeing the scene, Lewis commanded his friends to get into his limo, according to Oakley; other passengers testify that they were instructed to “keep their mouths shut.” Traces of Baker’s blood were discovered in the limo, and Lewis’s white suit has not been seen since the party. Though Lewis was originally charged with two counts of murder, his attorneys negotiated a deal with prosecutors to dismiss the charges in exchange for testimony against Oakley and Sweeting, who were both acquitted, as well as a guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. Lewis escaped sentencing with merely twelve months of probation, in addition to a $250,000 fine by the NFL.

Following Lewis’s MVP award for Super Bowl XXXV, Disney, who typically arranges for the Super Bowl MVP to declare “I’m going to Disney World!” as a commercial promotion after the game, recognized the perversion of idolizing an alleged murderer and tapped Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer to fulfill that duty. However, during his final home game at M&T Bank Stadium, the deafening crowd roared as Lewis performed his famed squirrel dance while the last seconds ticked off the game clock during a playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The two following weeks, led by Lewis’s team-best 29 total tackles, the Ravens upset the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, both games on the road. With the Ravens set to battle the San Francisco 49ers for the Lombardi Trophy, some romantic fans may yearn to see Lewis’s storied career culminate with a Super Bowl win in New Orleans. However, I will root against Lewis during his final game, jeering him when he misses a tackle and cheering when the 49ers find the endzone.

Although Lewis has revived his public image, especially through his passionate leadership, football fans must not allow Lewis’s shameful past to recede into the background, obscured by his football prowess. We should reflect on the heartless message broadcast by reverence of Lewis. Hopefully, a Super Bowl defeat will end Lewis’s time in the spotlight as a national hero.