As far as the NFL is concerned, the case that began with Ray Lewis’ arrest last January on murder charges in Atlanta is finally over. Lewis might have other ideas.
The latest step came Thursday when commissioner Paul Tagliabue levied a $250,000 fine against Baltimore’s All-Pro middle linebacker, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice after originally being charged with murder.
It is believed to be the highest fine levied against an NFL player for an infraction not involving substance abuse.
But while the league hoped the fine — with no suspension — might close the story, Lewis had another opinion.
“I am disappointed and I will appeal,” he said in a statement issued by the team.
Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said, “We have supported Ray since the beginning of this situation and will continue to support him.”
Reputation at Risk
Tagliabue noted that Lewis’ reputation suffered and that he had spent a lot of money on legal fees.
But he added: “The unlawful obstruction related to a very serious occurrence — a double homicide.”
Tagliabue also ruled that Lewis will be fined another $250,000 and be subject to suspension if he violates any of the terms of his 12-month probation.
Lewis 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.
The two co-defendants were subsequently acquitted.
Tagliabue said in his ruling that he believed everyone was hurt by the perception the episode created.
He 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.”
Lewis’ arrest was one of several that has tarnished the NFL’s reputation in the last year.
Rae Carruth, a 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 plead 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.