Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was talking about “evil” - which is a subject he knows oh so well.
The Baltimore Ravens heralded linebacker told ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio that the NFL lockout could cause higher crime rates:
“Do this research if we don’t have a season — watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up, if you take away our game. There’s nothing else to do, Sal.”
Most people wouldn’t think of crime as the first substitute for watching football, but Lewis sure was able to dovetail the two at the Super Bowl in Atlanta 11 years ago.
He was indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges there after he and some if his pals had some involvement in the beating deaths of two Ohio men - Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker — on the street outside a Buckhead nightclub.
Later, when Lewis agreed to testify against two of his companions, the murder charges were dropped on him. With some witnesses changing their stories, the other two guys eventually were acquitted and so, to this date, no one has been held truly responsible for the murders.
Lewis’ career has blossomed - thanks to his ferocious play, good public relations people who retooled his image, his avoidance of more headlines-grabbing trouble and sports fans’ tendency to often overlook away-from-the-game transgressions when the athlete has great success on the field.
Meanwhile, the two families in Ohio have been left with nothing but loss from that brutal attack.
I got to know the Lollar family Here’s something I wrote on them some years back.
As Ray Lewis makes his pronouncements, the story of shouldn’t be forgotten.
AKRON - Joyce Lollar opened the scrapbook she’d been holding in her lap, and for the first time all afternoon the sadness melted from the room.
“That’s when he was 7. Look at him, he sure was a handsome little guy,” she said with a smile, as she touched the old photo, running a loving finger across her grandson Richard’s curly hair, his olive skin and that gap-toothed grin.
As she flipped the pages, she took you on a childhood tour. There was the 5-year-old boy in the white cap and gown of his Head Start graduation. There were pictures of his peewee football and baseball teams, another of him as a Boy Scout. There were prom pictures, one of him when he was voted Barber of the Year and a portrait of his fiancé and their 3-year-old daughter, India, born a month after he died.
Joyce pointed to photos of a wedding party in Georgia. “These are the last pictures we have of him.”
Actually there are two more - both of which with she wants nothing to do:
One is the January 2000 image of her grandson - stabbed to death, covered by a sheet and lying near his slain buddy Jacinth “Shorty” Baker - on a street in the Buckhead section of Atlanta after Super Bowl XXXIV.
The other, she said, is the one painted by the lawyers for NFL star Ray Lewis and the two other guys arrested for the murders.
“They did everything they could to portray my grandson as a street person,” said Joyce, making reference to three minor drug arrests that had been hammered on. “They tried to make Richard out to be a nobody. And that’s wrong. I want people to know he was somebody - somebody special.”
It’s been more than 3 1/2 years since the two young men from Akron were killed. Since then - Lewis with far greater success - has sought the same thing for himself that Joyce has for her 24-year-old grandson.
Once the most tarnished person in pro football, Lewis - in one of the most mind-boggling transformations in sport - now brings a polished image and burgeoning endorsement portfolio into Cincinnati this Sunday when he leads the Baltimore Ravens against the Bengals.
He has more than $1 million in endorsements - along with a new $50 million contract extension with the Ravens - is being considered for movie deals and has the NFL trumpeting him as one of its most charismatic stars.
Wednesday, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis - who coached the Ravens’ intimidating linebacker in Baltimore - was gushing over what a good influence Ray Lewis was on everyone around him. And earlier this year, Bengals rookie Carson Palmer teamed with Lewis in a funny commercial - the veteran defender intimidating the kid quarterback to do pushups - to promote the league.
What has happened?
First of all, the six felony charges against Lewis were dropped because of weak evidence, witnesses changing their stories in court and a plea bargain to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge. In turn, Lewis agreed to testify against his co-defendants, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, who ended up being acquitted.
Since then Lewis - who the season after the incident became the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP - has avoided trouble, involved himself in charity work and, probably most importantly, hired good public relations people.
“When you first meet Ray you see this well-built, intimidating guy. But once you spend a little time with him, he is not the same guy he is on the field. He is a quiet young man who comes across extremely well on camera,” Sandy Sandoval, director of athlete relations for EA Sports, a manufacturer of video games, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press . “Here is a guy, whom if he had not been in that position would have made zillions of dollars off the field. There are still opportunities … Ray has cut some baggage and Ira (marketing director Ira Rainess) has him moving in other directions.”
The riddance of baggage concept didn’t set well the other day at Joyce Lollar’s little yellow house on Hartford Avenue in West Akron.
“Nothing has been, or ever will be, the same,” the 68-year-old grandmother said as she sat with her daughter, Cindy Lollar-Owens, Richard’s aunt. “It’s hard to get closure, when those responsible for the murders haven’t been held accountable. But whoever did this don’t need to be walking this earth. Not the way they done those boys.”
Cindy nodded and whispered: “They said it was a massacre. The knives they used. The way they sliced ‘em up and how the crowd beat ‘em. The Baker boy - he was a little guy, just 5-foot-3 - they flipped him over and kept stomping on him when he was out cold. At least Richard’s face was OK.”
The confrontation had occurred outside a Buckhead nightclub. While no one is sure what caused the fight, Lewis’s group - some say there were close to a dozen people - piled into the 40-foot stretch limo he had and fled the scene.
“They ditched their bloody clothes and Ray Lewis told them all to keep their mouths shut,” Cindy said. “That’s not the actions of innocent people.”
In the end, Lewis got 12 months probation for obstruction. After the other acquittals, no one else was charged with the murders.
While Lewis has been named in two civil lawsuits - one brought by Shorty Baker’s grandmother and the other by Richard’s fiancé, Kellye Smith - Joyce and Cindy said they aren’t involved in the legal actions. What they do want is peace of mind.
For the living it’s not easy, she said: “The counselors tell us we should all sit and talk about it, but we can’t. Richard’s oldest brother was suicidal a while, until he realized what he’d be doing to me. I can’t bury two grandsons.”
Joyce put a bumper sticker on her car asking for justice, and Cindy showed up at some Cleveland Browns games and then Super Bowl XXXV in Miami to pass out fliers that asked the NFL, “What about the double murder?”
“That’s the Super Bowl the Ravens won and I was scared to death,” Cindy said. “I only handed out about 20 leaflets and quit ‘cause I could tell people were angry.”
Joyce nodded: “That’s how it is with fans . Fans don’t get mad about what happens away from the field. They just want the team to win. The only way it would bother them is if it was their own kid laying up there in the cemetery.
“As for guys like (Ravens owner) Art Modell, the people promoting the NFL and all the people selling the clothes and video games, they don’t care nothing about Richard Lollar. It’s all about making money.”
And Lewis is doing that. As Sandoval told the St. Paul paper: “Ray sells.”
But while the future seems more and more promising for Lewis, Joyce Lollar is left holding nothing but the past.
“Richard started cutting hair for people right here in the basement,” she said proudly. “Couldn’t a been about 8 or 10. He’d cut the hair of his brothers and sisters and friends. And when I’d get home from work, Richard was real respectful. He’d tell ‘em, `Nana’s here, cut down the music.’
“He kept that same attitude when he graduated from barber school. He won awards for his work, and when Shorty told him he’d do better moving down to around Atlanta - that he could cut movie stars’ hair and one day get his own shop - he went.
“And when he met Kellye and they were gonna have a baby, he was real excited. It was the first child for both of them. The day before he was killed he called me and told me he was going to those Lamaze classes with Kellye. I told him, `I didn’t know men folks did that these days.’ And he told me he wasn’t like other men folks. He was gonna be special.”
As she fought back her emotions, Joyce shut the scrapbook and whispered:
“He just never got the chance.”Tweet