Letting Sports Figures Get Away with Murder
The murder cases of NFL players Ray Lewis and Rae Carruth, and the advent of the XFL, indicate that the sports industry is getting away with murder, literally and figuratively.
by Jerome F. Winzig
Ray Lewis, a star linebacker for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, was paid $4.7 million for the NFL season just completed. Though currently on probation for obstruction of justice in a double murder, he was recognized as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was allowed to play in this week's Super Bowl game, and was named the game's most valuable player . Last week, Rae Carruth, a former receiver for the NFL's Carolina Panthers, was convicted last week of conspiracy to murder his girlfriend. However, the jury managed to find him not guilty of first degree murder, even though he used his white Ford Expedition to block his girlfriend's car while a hired gunman shot her.
These disturbing cases are the consequence of a sports culture that increasingly condones atrocious behavior on the part of big-name sports figures. Next week it promises to get even worse, with the first football game of the World Wrestling Federation's XFL. The details of the Lewis and Carruth cases and the plans for the XFL are astonishing in their cavalier disregard for morality and their callous encouragement of evil.
Lewis' own testimony paints a terrible picture of his case. A year ago, on the night of the 2000 Super Bowl, Lewis and friends went bar-hopping in Atlanta, Georgia. They were chauffeured to the club in a stretch limo; Lewis was dressed in a white mink. At the Cobalt Lounge, they got into a fight and a champagne bottle was broken over the head of one of Lewis' friends. Then Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, were stabbed with fighting knives that Lewis' two friends had been showing off. As the men lay dying, Lewis and his friends fled the scene. When they were later caught by the police, they denied any involvement.
Lewis and his friends, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were indicted for double murder. Lewis was held in jail for two weeks, with all three men were represented by the same attorney. When Lewis went to trial, he plea-bargained to obstruction of justice. Then his friends, Oakley and Sweeting, were acquitted; their attorneys argued it was unclear whether the murders were committed by Lewis or by Oakley and Sweeting. As a result, no one has been held legally accountable for the murders of the two young men that night in Atlanta.
Carruth was convicted of conspiracy to murder his 24-year-old girlfriend, Cherica Adams, on November 16, 1999. She was eight months pregnant. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was the first active NFL player to face a murder charge. (Lewis was the second.) She was shot in the neck and chest from a passing vehicle when Carruth blocked her car with his SUV as she drove through a Charlotte, North Carolina neighborhood. Carruth and the three men in the other vehicle fled the scene, leaving Adams bleeding severely as she dialed 911.
Adams' son, Chancellor, was delivered prematurely by Caesarean section after the shooting and has cerebral palsy. Adams, who lost a substantial amount of blood from her four gunshot wounds, died a month later.
While the jury found Carruth guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, it acquitted him of first degree murder, a charge that carries the death penalty in North Carolina. Carruth's attorney's asked the judge to throw out Carruth's conspiracy conviction, arguing that it was inconsistent with his acquittal on first degree murder, but the judge let the verdict stand and sentenced him to almost 19 years in prison. One wonders how a lesser-known figure would have fared under similar circumstances.
Later this week, the XFL will televise its first football game on NBC. Invented by Vince McMahon, Jr., who runs the World Wrestling Federation, and co-owned by NBC, the XFL seems intent on proving that the major television networks will air any trash they think will make them money. One XFL press release quotes NBC director Joe Livecchi, commenting in these words on its cheerleader promotional ads: "There was a lot of nakedness. Finding what falls within what's acceptable for television was somewhat of a challenge."
McMahon plans to have cameras and microphones everywhere, explaining, "when the quarterback fumbles or the wideout drops a pass -- and we know who he's dating -- I want our reporters right back in her face on the sidelines demanding to know whether the two of them did the wild thing last night."
Clearly, the U.S. sports industry is getting away with murder, literally and figuratively.