- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has drawn the line in the sand for standards of behavior expected of the league's players with his decision not to suspend Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
This is the line: If you are involved in a brutal nightclub fight that ends up in a double murder; if you then lie to the police; and if evidence on national television shows that you have lived a lifestyle that brings shame and embarrassment to the entire league such as appearing in what amounts to a porn film you can still play in the NFL.
But don't cross that line, or else.
Not long ago, the NFL supposedly got tough with its thug element by coming up with a personal conduct code that says criminal and violent behavior "alienates the fans on whom the success of the league depends and has negative and sometimes tragic consequences for both the victim and the perpetrator."
The consequences for Ray Lewis? Likely a fine. Simply the cost of being a bad boy.
That should send chills through the league.
Tagliabue says that what Lewis, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice, went through for his role in the Jan. 31 fight outside an Atlanta nightclub that left two persons dead should be warning enough for players.
"If anyone in the NFL needed a reminder that high-profile professional athletes need to be extraordinarily careful in their associations and activities, Ray Lewis' experience provides that reminder," Tagliabue said.
What does that mean? That the league has raised the white flag. That it has given up.
If you mess up like Lewis did, you could spend a few months in jail. But the NFL? Just put it on my tab.
Ravens owner Art Modell flew the white flag himself when he said that the league should not take any action against his All-Pro linebacker. "If every player in the NFL charged with a misdemeanor was suspended, we would be playing with four man rosters," Modell said.
For one thing, Lewis was not charged with a misdemeanor. He was convicted of one.
Secondly, if that's what it has come to that the NFL has accepted the proposition of its rosters being littered with players charged with crimes then let's get it over right now. Bring on the XFL and clean up this sport.
How could the league not suspend Lewis for putting himself, his team and the league in such a position? Really, if what he did is acceptable behavior on a certain level, then what is not? Felony convictions? What degree of felony? Maybe it's in the league's new get-tough code of conduct.
"We will continue to work as hard as we can to ensure that our players do not become involved in these type of situations," Tagliabue said.
Or else what? By not suspending Lewis, the league has handed its rogue players the football version of a Get Out of Jail Free card for all behavior that is within the boundaries it has set.
Lewis did not commit the crimes two murders he was accused of. But don't shed any tears for him, despite his lawyer's pleas for sympathy. "He was an innocent man, wrongly accused, and who has been through an awful ordeal," said defense attorney Ed Garland.
Lewis is a lot of things, but innocent isn't one of them. Not guilty, maybe, but hardly innocent. And he put himself through this awful ordeal by lying to police in the first place. He admitted that he tried to cover up his role in the fight by lying to police and ordered those with him the night of the fight to "keep your mouth shut."
Lewis put himself behind bars. No one else did.
He put his team through this ordeal as well, and all Modell can say is that "we all believed in and and supported Ray Lewis."
What Modell did was support the leading tackler on his team. It just happened to be Ray Lewis.
"He can now get on with his life, including his work with the Ravens," Modell said.
Lewis' work begins Monday, when he is expected to report for a voluntary minicamp. He will also have to start his probation 36 long-distance phone calls over a year to counselors to assure them he is being a good boy.
A checkbook and a phone card the NFL's "Scared Straight" program.


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