A slide to the right, a slide to the left, thrusts with his front, punches through the air, roaring all along. It’s the core of what is shown when the name Ray Lewis comes up. His fire, his passion, his faith – it’s all gold for the media. A developed character over a 17-year National Football League career that draws all sorts of attention – the media wants to show all of it, the positives of number 52. Yet, they brush aside the ugly, bringing it up only at the rarest of occasions, polishing an image for the young to see: Ray Lewis, ultra football legend. Involvement in murders, that’s not the image of a hero the media wants to display. And the media remembering the ugly for two weeks almost definitely won’t change that image they’ve worked so hard to craft.
In the two weeks prior to Super Bowl XLVII, the media, for the first time in a long time, brought up Ray Lewis's role in the double murders of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker. An array of microphones, notepads, and camera footage – it’s the usual setup in the two weeks between Championship Sunday and Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl is mega-hyped, even weeks before, so the media will break whatever silence it has in order to create some buzz. No investigative reporting, no attempt to create enlightenment in the viewers, no true journalism. Buzz, buzz, buzz, even if it means breaking the image you cultivated for years for the youth. That’s why the media decided to bring up the real discussion, the reality of Ray Lewis.
For someone like I who grew up on the media’s current portrayal of Lewis, it was almost a surreal two weeks when Lewis finally wasn’t viewed as an angry saint. We were mostly raised on just a dance. We were catered to marvel at this giant, dancing, bouncy bear. When interviewed, the phrase, “it’s a man’s game!” was the basic representation of Ray Lewis’s character. If the media ever portrayed anything off-putting about him, it was the idea that fighting him would be a really bad idea.
Much of my generation doesn’t yearn to talk about the ills of Ray Lewis. We’ve been brought up to see him as a hero who entertains us. How many would want to fight against a champion? Thank you, media.
Call me an outlier, but when information is ignored you begin to wonder. You start to contemplate if there’s more to know about someone who’s a future Hall-of-Famer. Everyone wants to know the whole story about heroes. And then the hard hats come out. Dig.
What the media left out in the myth of Ray Lewis is pretty significant. The two names lost: Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker. They were 24 and 21 respectively when they were murdered, stabbed numerous times in the heart and upper body. They had criminal records, but minor ones. They moved to Atlanta to restart. Baker was an aspiring artist; Lollar aiming to be a barber, with a baby soon to be on the way. The night after Super Bowl XXXIV happened and those dreams died with Lollar and Baker, outside a nightclub in Atlanta.
Not a whole lot is known about exactly what happened that night, but what we do know doesn’t bode well for Lewis’s cry of innocence. Lewis’s two friends, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, bought knives the day before, according to the former linebacker. Bullets were fired at four a.m., Lollar and Baker were brutally stabbed and killed, and Ray Lewis’s limo fled the scene with the three men and other passengers in it, who were told by Lewis to “keep their mouths shut.” The two biggest pieces of evidence were Baker’s blood found in the limo, and the white suit Lewis wore that night that may have explained who got the blood on whom. Lewis’s suit was never found.
Lewis dodged questions, lied, and ended up getting an obstruction of justice charge, a year of probation, and a $250,000 fine from the NFL. His original charge of two counts of murder was dropped in a deal with prosecutors to testify against his friends. Sweeting later said he, Lewis, and Oakley agreed they would take the fall and Lewis would be protected. It ended up not mattering, as Oakley and Sweeting were eventually acquitted, even though Lewis admitted they purchased the knives. Lollar and Baker’s murders are still unsolved, but their families and countless others know the evidence speaks volumes. Lewis may not have actually ended Lollar and Baker’s lives, but the facts certainly suggest he was involved.
Lewis evaded the crux of the issue when asked 13 years later. He said he didn’t want to talk about something that happened in 2000. Speeding past questions during the two weeks before the game against the San Francisco 49ers, trying to continue the vague and ignored nature of a late night in January – Lewis didn’t enjoy the media suddenly reneging on their reverence of him. They feasted on this, writing about how complicated a man Lewis has always been, and that he may feel remorse for being part of the end of two young lives. That could be true, but Lewis and the media soon won’t speak as they did during the two week pre-Super Bowl hype.
The odds of the details of January 31, 2000 being remembered in even a month from now are slim. For years the media has all but ignored this information, discussing only the passion that is Ray Lewis. 13 years. That’s the gap between Lewis’s prosecution and now – practically an entire generation. Kids have been born, raised, and taught hardly anything negative about number 52. Some will dig for more to understand the entire Ray Lewis story. But the number of people who will search is low when the news media, our main source of information, pretends there was no bloody January 31, 2000. Without that mention, without the discussions about Lewis’s involvement in the double murders of Lollar and Baker, there’s only one Ray Lewis image seen: the media’s depiction. All the glamour, fire, and sweat – that’s what most will remember about Lewis. The man who wore 52 handcuffed, that’s going to be an unknown for the future generations. The ugly side was a good talking point prior to Super Bowl XLVII, nothing else. It was hype to help fill the time until the game. Now that time is gone and with it likely goes any widespread discussion about the reality of Ray Lewis. The man who dodged questions about the double murders, lied and obstructed the justice system, was there that night and still won’t say exactly what happened. He’s only going to be remembered the media’s way: A slide to the right, a slide to the left, thrusts with his front, punches through the air, roaring all along.