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Lewis fined

NFL levies $250,000 penalty against Ravens LB

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Latest: Thursday August 17, 2000 07:31 PM

  Ray Lewis Lewis' fine will be doubled if he is found to have violated any part of his 12-month probation. Scott Halleran/Allsport

NEW YORK (AP) -- Ray Lewis was fined $250,000 by the NFL Thursday for obstructing an Atlanta police investigation of a double murder after the Super Bowl.

The fine is believed to be the largest ever levied by the NFL against a player other than in cases involving substance abuse.

In addition, commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruled that Lewis will be fined an another $250,000 and be subject to suspension if he violates any of the terms of his 12-month probation for a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice.

Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens' All-Pro middle linebacker, was originally accused with two others of murder in the stabbing deaths of two men following a post-Super Bowl party last January. He interrupted the trial to plead guilty to the misdemeanor and agreed to testify against his co-defendants.

SI's Don Banks
Don't be surprised if the nearly unprecedented $250,000 fine of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis handed down Thursday by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue is eventually reduced on appeal by as much as a third or even one half.

Lewis was said to be shocked by the size of the fine, but that may have been just the impact Tagliabue was looking for when he found Lewis guilty of conduct detrimental to the league for his part in obstructing the
investigation into the murder of two Atlanta men in January.

Tagliabue received reams of criticism last month when he announced that the NFL would not be suspending Lewis in the wake of his having double murder charges dropped in exchange for a misdemeanor count of obstruction of justice.

Sensitive perhaps to the perception of going soft on Lewis, Tagliabue, with the fine, may have responded in a way to ensure the league can claim a tough-on-crime stance. In his statement explaining the fine, Tagliabue seemed to be saying this: Give the league and its players a black eye in the court of public opinion -- misdemeanor or not -- and you will pay for it (at least financially).

But later, after a new round of Lewis headlines, the league will likely choose to quietly reduce the size of the fine on appeal, thereby lessening the impact on Lewis' scheduled $4.75 million salary this season.

Lewis had even been led to believe that his participation in the NFL's June rookie symposium, at which he got up and talked about his own mistakes and experiences for the benefit of the league's incoming players, would go a long way toward reducing the scope of the league's punishment. What might have the fine looked like without his cooperation?

Some officials around the league, however, are already wondering aloud if the ultra-public-relations conscious Tagliabue may have dropped the ball with the Lewis fine. After months of intense coverage, this was a story that was over with and a long way towards being forgotten. Now, with the sizable fine and the ensuing appeal, the story has new life -- thanks to Tagliabue.

And one more caveat: Has Tagliabue opened the door to the charge that league should look upon all degrees of misdemeanors equally? Anyone believe Dallas owner Jerry Jones will be fined $250,000 some day soon for his misdemeanor role in leaving the scene of a traffic violation? 

The two co-defendants were subsequently acquitted.

Through a Ravens spokeman, Lewis said: "I'm disappointed and I will appeal it."

Reached at his team's hotel in Charlotte, N.C., where the Ravens will play the Panthers on Friday, Baltimore coach Brian Billick called the size of the fine "excessive."

"We support Ray as we have done all along in this process," Billick said. "We hope the league will take all the facts into account with regards to the appeal."

Tagliabue noted in levying the fine that Lewis' reputation had suffered and he had paid substantial legal fees.

But the commissioner said that by not telling police the full story, Lewis "fueled a public perception that he had something to hide."

"In doing so," Tagliabue added, "he put his own livelihood and reputation needlessly at risk and he caused great harm to other NFL players and to the league."

In Baltimore, Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said, "We have supported Ray since the beginning of this situation and will continue to support him."

Lewis' arrest was one of several that has tarnished the NFL's reputation in the last year.

  • Rae Carruth, the former Carolina Panthers' wide receiver, has been charged in the fatal shooting of the mother of his child. He is awaiting trial.

  • Another former Panther, Fred Lane, was shot to death last spring in what the police said was a domestic dispute. No arrests have been made.

    Tagliabue said all the cases have harmed the NFL and its players.

    "When an NFL player engages in and admits to misconduct of the type to which Mr. Lewis has pled here, the biggest losers are thousands of other NFL players, present, past and future," he said "Such admitted misconduct clearly contributes to the negative stereotyping of NFL players."

    The league said the only larger fines would have involved cases where players were docked four game checks for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy but were not suspended. None of players in those cases have been publicly identified, the NFL said.

    Sports Illustrated's Don Banks contributed to this report.

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