Before the Baltimore Ravens’ playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, star middle linebacker Ray Lewis announced that he would retire at the end of the season. Lewis has spent 17 years in the NFL at one of the physically toughest positions.
Lewis will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame when his waiting period is up. The linebacker is, without question, one of the best to play his position—but you can’t discuss Lewis’ career without mentioning his biggest mistake.
Following the St. Louis Rams defeat of the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV on Jan. 31, 2000, Lewis and several friends got into an altercation while leaving a party in Atlanta that left Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar dead.
Lewis and two friends, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were charged with the murders. A plea deal allowed Lewis to walk with 12 months’ probation for his testimony against Oakley and Sweeting.
A jury acquitted Oakley and Sweeting of murder, and no other arrests have been made in the deaths of Baker and Lollar. The NFL fined Lewis $250,000, but he was able to play the entire 2000-2001 season.
The next season, Lewis began one of the biggest comebacks in public perception in the history of sports. He also might have the greatest one-year turnaround by anyone in sports, media or entertainment in the public eye.
Lewis ended the 2000-01 season leading the Ravens to a victory over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV. The linebacker earned MVP of that Super Bowl as well as Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous All-Pro selection, and was named to the Pro Bowl.
The Ravens’ star has turned his life around since that night in Atlanta. He has not had any criminal legal trouble since then and, from all accounts, has become a role model, team leader and outstanding citizen.
Lewis has long been one of the players I point out when discussing the proper way to tackle in football. The way he has carried himself makes you forget that nearly 13 years ago he was charged with a double murder.
We are a country that loves second chances and stories of redemption. Lewis has made the most of his second chance and his fortuitous redemption—even to the point that, after he announced his retirement, most news outlets didn’t mention his legal trouble when praising his hall-of-fame career.
Every hall of fame is filled with athletes who are of questionable moral or criminal behavior—Ty Cobb and O.J. Simpson spring to mind.
Only Lewis and the people he was with really know what really happened that night in Atlanta. Should we hold that night against Lewis, or should we look at how he has molded his life since that night? That is a hard question to answer.
However, I’m sure the families of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar weren’t celebrating Lewis’ career this past week.