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We Don't Know Jack

Ray Lewis serves as a reminder that what we read isn't always the whole story

By Steve Rushin

Issue date: May 15, 2000

Sports Illustrated Flashback Sports journalists are always being asked, "What's Tiger Woods really like?" or "What's Michael Jordan really like?" or "What's Mark McGwire really like?" The truth is, we don't know, any more than we know what our bosses or neighbors or spouses are really like. "A wonderful fact to reflect upon," Charles Dickens wrote in 1859, "that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other."

Yet, it is the job of journalists to perpetuate the fiction that we -- and, in turn, our readers -- can know someone by spending five minutes, five hours or five days with him, by getting "up close and personal" with him, by going behind the scenes.

Novelist Martin Amis, assigned in 1988 by a magazine to go "behind the scenes" at a tennis tournament, had the good sense to know that in celebrity journalism "all you get when you go behind the scenes is another scene." Which is to say, a carefully arranged "reality." In the end the journalist can only paint a portrait of the athlete with whatever materials are at hand -- as prosecutors and defense attorneys will begin doing next week, when Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis goes on trial for the murder of two men on the night of the Super Bowl. What is Ray Lewis really like?

The Baltimore Sun, in a profile in 1998, reported of Lewis: "Family is his obsession. The father of two sons, Ray III and Rayshad, Lewis spends nearly his entire off-season with them, at the home of their mother, Tatyana McCall, in Orlando. He flies there religiously for birthdays."

Whereas The Washington Post reported of Lewis in 2000: "In 1997, McCall, who was expecting their second child, had to take Lewis to court to obtain child support. In January 1998, Lewis agreed to pay $3,800 a month ... according to Orange County, Fla., court records."

The Sun reported in '98: Lewis said "he is determined not to repeat his childhood experience. He never had much of a relationship with his father ... who would disappear from home for lengthy stretches."

Whereas the Sun reported in '00: "In 1998, Lewis was ordered to pay $2,700 a month in child support to a Randallstown [Md.] woman to help support a baby girl born in August 1997." That woman was awarded $29,700 in back payments.

Bennie Thompson, Ravens linebacker and Lewis's best friend on the team, said in the Sun in '98: "Ray is a good guy. He doesn't get into trouble off the field, no violence."

Whereas the Sun in '00 detailed "allegations that Lewis hit or grabbed two former girlfriends, both pregnant, while he was in college at the University of Miami in 1994 and 1995" and reported "accusations to police by several women" -- one of them pregnant -- "in [Baltimore's] Windsor Inn on Nov. 30 [1999] that Lewis hit them." The paper did note that the women in Miami, one of whom was McCall, rescinded their accusations and that the prosecutor in Baltimore dropped the more recent charges due to insufficient evidence.

Thompson said in the Sun in '98: "When he hangs out, he doesn't make a lot of noise about being Ray Lewis."

Whereas the Sun reported in '00: "As his stature had grown, so had his ego. He began answering reporters' questions in the third person .... He started to surround himself with an entourage .... A black Lincoln Navigator limousine, possibly the one involved in the Super Bowl incident, was Lewis' trademark." On Super Bowl night Lewis reportedly wore a white full-length fur coat and cowboy hat.

The Sun in '98: "The Baptist religion runs strong in the household, where the family prays together often.... Lewis, who became a deacon when he was 9...envisions himself becoming a preacher some day."

The Minneapolis Star Tribune in '00: "Ray Lewis, charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of two men after the Super Bowl, appears with a co-defendant in a sexually explicit mail-order video. The video shows Lewis and [strip-club promoter] Joseph Sweeting watching party guests perform sex acts."

The point is not that Lewis is guilty or innocent of the charges. The point is that you haven't a clue: You watch, you listen to and you read about professional athletes every day, and you think you know something about them.

But as Lewis allegedly instructed his limo driver shortly after the murders: "You don't know anything."

Issue date: May 15, 2000

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