Does anything like a sense of shame exist in the sports department of USA Today?
Apparently not. And apparently some people just can’t help but live down to your expectations of them.
Now I knew when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announced that this season would be his last go round in the National Football League, that someone – or a group of someones – at some newspaper, radio or television station would dredge up that nasty business from 13 years ago.
It’s a business that went something like this: On Jan. 31, 2000, around 4 a.m., Lewis and others were riding around Atlanta in a limo, celebrating the Super Bowl that had been played there the day before.
Members of Lewis’ party got into a fight with some other guys. When the dust settled, two of those other guys – Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar – lay sprawled in the streets of Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. Both had died from stab wounds.
Paul Howard, the district attorney of Fulton County, Ga., charged Lewis and two other men – Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting – with the murders of Baker and Lollar.
Howard later dropped the murder charges against Lewis; the jury acquitted Oakley and Sweeting of all charges. But that didn’t fit the narrative that some people – like, say, sports editors at USA Today – wanted.
They bought into Howard’s depiction of Lewis, Oakley and Sweeting as cold-blooded murderers, and that’s the one they’re running with today.
So, as I stumbled across a Jan. 14 USA Today story with the headline, “Ray Lewis’ Career Marches on After Upset,” I wasn’t surprised to find a link to a story with THIS headline:
“Slayings Not Forgotten, Ray Lewis Not Forgiven.”
The headline implies that Lewis did indeed do something for which the families of Baker and Lollar should forgive him. If the headline wasn’t enough to convince readers that Lewis was a murdering menace, reporter Brent Schrotenboer made sure to include this sentence in the body of the story:
“Their (Baker’s and Lollar’s) murders remained unsolved. But as the anniversary of their deaths approaches – and as Lewis dances into the sunset of his career – the victims’ relatives are still seething at him. While Priscilla Lollar (Jacinth Lollar’s mother) says she’s ‘numb’ to Lewis, others want answers. And justice.”
Those answers and that justice were provided 13 years ago, at trial. The families of Baker and Lollar – and those sports editors at USA Today – just choose to live in denial and accept them.
I attended a couple of days of Lewis’ Atlanta trial. On day one, which I didn’t attend, the prosecution’s first witness – a woman who saw the fight that led to the stabbings – testified that a man in a red jacket was wielding a knife.
She identified neither Lewis, Oakley nor Sweeting as that man, probably because none of them was wearing a red jacket when the incident occurred.