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Billick tees off on media
By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001
TAMPA -- Brian Billick's team is known for its defense, but Monday the Ravens coach went on the offensive about media depictions of linebacker Ray Lewis' participation in Super Bowl XXXV.
Using words such as "reprehensible" and "sensational," Billick spent the better part of a media session at the Hyatt Westshore emphatically serving notice the Ravens do not plan to allow Lewis' situation to become a distraction from Sunday's game.
Lewis was charged with murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in the aftermath of a brawl that left two men dead on the streets of Atlanta on Jan. 31, 2000, the morning after last year's Super Bowl. The charges eventually were dropped, but not before Lewis went on trial in May and became one of the symbols of the league's on-going struggles with off-field issues.
Billick used an unsolicited 41/2-minute diatribe to denote his disappointment with the latest reports. A number of media outlets, including the Times, have contacted the relatives of victims Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar to gauge their reaction to seeing Lewis play in the Super Bowl a year after the murders.
"Evidently there are those among you that are either new to the story or for whatever reason -- I equate it to an ambulance-chasing mode -- decide to take on a certain sensational aspect of it," Billick said. "Nothing that you're going to hear or find is going to crystallize the situation or unearth any information that hasn't already been brought forth."
Billick re-emphasized the initial murder charges against Lewis were dropped. Billick claimed there was no plea bargain, but the charges were dropped only after Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
He also claimed Lewis has consistently remained sympathetic for the victims' families and has expressed a willingness to meet with the families.
"(He) has publicly stated he would like, at the appropriate time, to meet with the family, but he fully understands, as we do, that they have a predisposition that is clearly understandable, and he is clearly not optimistic about that face-to-face meeting happening," Billick said. "But it is in Ray's heart to do that, if at some point they want to do that. That has been consistent."
Billick also admonished reporters who want to rehash the events of that night and the trial.
"As much as some of you want to, we are not going to retry this," Billick said. "It is inappropriate and you are not qualified.
"Those that wish to embellish it, not to crystallize it, not to shed new information, but to sensationalize it for your own purposes -- and this is a personal observation -- is reprehensible. I don't like it. I think it's unprofessional."
Billick's statement clearly was calculated and was part of an overall plan to handle the media. He said Lewis would make a statement at today's media day and would not discuss the Atlanta situation again. Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe and free safety Rod Woodson also said they plan to keep Lewis company this week.
"We'll be together, for the most part, all of the time," Woodson said. "Ray understands the whole thing. That's my man, you're protective of all of your friends. Not just because he's Ray Lewis and all the stuff that happened last year, but if he's a close friend of yours and a true friend, you always want to protect your friends and your loved ones."
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