'You're not qualified'
Billick wants reporters to avoid criticizing Lewis
Updated: Tuesday January 23, 2001 9:23 AM
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- An angry Brian Billick sent a terse message to the media Monday: Lay off Ray.
Less than an hour after the coach and his Baltimore Ravens arrived in Tampa for the Super Bowl, he fired a cautionary strike regarding the questioning of Lewis, the team's star linebacker who stood trial on murder charges in Atlanta last spring.
Lewis was absolved of the charges, pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for testimony against his co-defendants.
Billick, knowing Lewis will be a big story all week, and especially at Tuesday's media day, accused reporters of unnecessarily prolonging his ordeal.
"As much as some of you want to, we are not going to retry this," Billick told a crowded room of reporters. "It's inappropriate, and you're not qualified. Ray will address this tomorrow in a way he sees fit, and that will be the end of it."
Lewis, the NFL defensive player of the year, has addressed questions about the trial as well as his sensational season for months -- so have the Ravens. But Tuesday's interrogation will be by hundreds of reporters from all over the world, many who are seeing Lewis for the first time.
Shannon Sharpe, one of Lewis' best friends and his constant companion during the trial last year, has already warned the linebacker about what awaits him.
"I told him, 'Ray, they're going to ask you a lot of questions, and you can't get frustrated. Try not to lose your head, you've done a great job. Don't blow it in the last seven days.'
"I think Ray will be fine," Sharpe said. "I've repeated it, repeated it and repeated it."
Billick was irate over recent articles written on the subject and wary of what else will be printed and broadcast as the Ravens draw nearer to Sunday's game against the New York Giants.
"Those that wish to embellish it -- not to crystalize it, not to shed new information, but to sensationalize it for your own purposes -- it's reprehensible," Billick said. "I don't like it. I think it's unprofessional."
Lewis, who spent 15 days in jail and endured an agonizing, well-publicized trial, walked away a free man, but he has yet to escape the steady barrage of questions about that chapter of his life.
"It's important to note that all charges were dropped against Ray Lewis. ... You can stir it up and talk about it, but you're not going to change the facts," Billick said. "From day one, we have always maintained sympathy for the victim's families, our respect for that process and our faith in Ray Lewis.
"Ray has constantly shown sympathy for the family and has publicly stated he would like to, at the appropriate time, meet with the family. It is in Ray's heart to do that, if they want to do that."
After Billick issued his warning, someone asked him why he felt compelled to tell the media how to do their job.
"I have the podium, and you are here to listen to me," he shot back.
The speech was unexpected, given that Billick first talked about the Ravens' warm send-off in Baltimore and the Ravens' need to stick to a routine this week. He said the team traveled on Monday, instead of Sunday, so the players could have a day with their families.
He then said the Ravens would not have bed checks and would not be held to a curfew until Saturday night.
Then, before accepting questions, Billick turned his attention toward the coverage of Lewis.
"We're not going to go backward now," he said, accusing some newcomers to the story of taking "an ambulance-chasing mode."
The day got off to a shaky start for the Ravens. A bus carrying the Ravens to the airport in Baltimore collided with a police car, but no injuries were reported.
Billick jokingly said the car "had a New York emblem on his side."
Asked if he thought this might be a bad omen, the coach replied, "Just for the guy who got hit. I imagine his day is pretty well shot."