One of the many talented football players competing for the NFL championship this Sunday is Ray Lewis, a world famous linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens who helped lead his team to a Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants in 2001, a game in which he was named the most valuable player.
He was also involved in a parking lot fight that saw two people get stabbed to death on the evening of January 30, 2000.
Just 24 years of age at the time, Lewis had flown to Atlanta to watch Super Bowl XXXIV, and booked himself a room in the luxurious Georgian Hotel. Lewis was traveling with his usual entourage that included his gorgeous date, Jessica Robertson, and personal driver Duane Fassett, who was at the helm of a 37-foot stretch Lincoln Navigator.
At around 1 a.m, Lewis, his date, and a group of roughly ten people arrived at Atlanta’s Cobalt Club, and of course, made their way to the VIP section. Lewis’s company consisted of Joseph Sweeting, a strip club promoter and old friend of Lewis’s and Reginald Oakley, a rather new acquaintance.
Lewis, Sweeting and Oakley were all carrying folding knives that night.
Later that night, sometime near 3:30 a.m, Oakley found himself in an aggressive quarrel with another large group of people, one of whom would go on to hit Oakley over the head with a champagne bottle. An all-out fist fight broke out between the two crews as a result. Lewis claims he was calmly resting against his limo as Sweeting was dragged and beat down by two large men.
“I don’t fight,” Lewis would eventually testify. “Period.”
His role as a bystander ended when two men collapsed in the midst of the brawl, covered in blood. Lewis quickly gathered his crew and they sped away as gun shots were fired at the limo’s tires and rear windshield. Just a few minutes into the getaway, the limo stopped, still in the club’s parking lot.
It was then that Lewis realized the serious trouble he had just gotten himself into. He would be tied to the murder of two men. Unless he disposed of some of the evidence, that is.
Lewis would remove the clothes he was wearing, put them in a laundry bag and toss the bag into a dumpster. Robertson would burn a photo of Lewis and his entourage that was taken that night.
Lewis decided to leave the limo at the Holiday Inn, where Sweeting was staying, and take a taxi back to the Georgian.
But the police would go on to find the limo, covered in blood and bullet holes. Fassett was found in the lobby of the Georgian, and he incriminated two of Lewis’s friends when he told the police that Sweeting and Oakley both uttered “I stabbed mine” as they were getting away.
Police entered Lewis’s room to find that he had fled to his fiancee’s family’s home. They soon found him, and after failing to keep his composure while being questioned, Lewis was taken away in handcuffs. He would spend 15 days in a cell before his lawyer got him out.
Sweeting and Oakley turned themselves in.
Fassett continued to speak the truth in court. He swore that Lewis didn’t hit or stab anybody, even though he was watching his friends engage in a brutal knife fight right before his eyes.
On June 4, Lewis’ attorney and the prosecution made a deal. Lewis would testify against Sweeting and Oakley in exchange for one year’s probation on obstruction of justice.
Sweeting and Oakley would both be acquitted from all charges just nine days later. Lewis would send 4 million dollars to one victim’s family.
Did Ray Lewis really just hang back and watch his buddies fight to death like that? As far as we know, he did. His friends were in danger, but he put his career first and stayed out of trouble.
Could any twenty-four-year-old football star do the same?
Either way, his decision undeniably saved his life and career. He could have destroyed his legacy and reputation by being jailed as an accomplice to the murder of two men, but the Ray Lewis that will retire this year will thankfully only be known as one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history.
Sean Levinson | Elite.