City acknowledges there are mixed feelings, but Ravens linebacker has plenty of backers.
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001
LAKELAND -- He's the NFL defensive player of the year and most valuable player of the Super Bowl, yet not everyone in Lakeland is ready to embrace Ray Lewis as a hometown hero.
The Baltimore Ravens linebacker will be honored today when he's expected to ride a float through downtown in what city officials liken more to a motorcade than a parade.
No marching bands are scheduled to perform and the city's only official involvement is the assignment of two police vehicles to stop traffic on the short parade route.
Lewis helped the Ravens to a 34-7 victory over the New York Giants in the Super Bowl in January. However, there are lingering emotions among some Lakeland residents about his involvement in the deaths of two men in Atlanta in January 2000.
Murder charges stemming from a street fight that left the men dead were dropped, and Lewis pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice in exchange for testimony against two co-defendants who were acquitted.
"There's a lot of people who oppose the man for various reasons," said Lakeland spokesman Kevin Cook.
City officials add that the government is doing no less to recognize Lewis than it did for Kenny Gant, another Lakeland Kathleen High School graduate who was part of two Super Bowl title teams with the Dallas Cowboys.
Lewis' grandmother, Elease McKinney, told The Ledger that he was excited about riding what figures to be the only float in the parade.
"He's just overjoyed," she told the newspaper. "I'm getting a lot of calls; this community is really into it."
Ernest Joe, Lewis' high school coach and now the principal at Auburndale High, said the linebacker deserves a hometown parade.
"I feel good about it, that there's some people willing to put something together and bring a great day for a person who has been through some tough times," Joe said.