Trial of his life
Time has repaired Lewis’s good name, but it has done nothing to heal the families of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker.
“It’s like it happened yesterday,” said Cindy Lollar-Owens, Richard’s aunt. “He was like one of my children.”
When Lewis and the Ravens reached the Super Bowl the January after his murder trial, both families were put through the emotional wringer, the confetti falling on Lewis as he celebrated the pinnacle of his career while the victims’ families were being besieged by media looking for their sides of the story. Lewis’s retirement and the Ravens’ playoff run has created an imperfect storm, dragging the painful memories up again for the victims.
“I think it’s more sad because it’s being brought back out into the spotlight,” Lollar-Owens said. “We never forgot about it. Some family members talk about him, some of them don’t. Everybody handles death differently, but just the way it happened, it’s just sad.”
In 2001, Lollar-Owens went to Tampa for Super Bowl XXXV to protest. She took the trip alone, armed with only flyers and pictures of her nephew, and an easel to hoist.
“A great big ol’ easel,” she said. “Bigger than me.”
She doesn’t see herself making a trip to New Orleans this time if the Ravens again reach football’s biggest stage.
She’s read countless stories about Lewis since the incident. Each one paints a different portrait of him.
“It’s so many different stories it’s hard to say what’s the truth and what’s not the truth,” she said. She said she met Lewis.
“He just said how sorry he was and that his attorney was telling him he couldn’t say anything,” she said. “He couldn’t apologize or anything.”
Now she wants to be able to move on.
“I don’t want to just harbor all this forever,” she said. “I mean, what good is it going to do. It’s like a pie. You cut it in three parts, you’ve got a third that believe he did it, another third that don’t believe, then you’ve got another third that don’t give a damn.
“So what do you do? You go on with your life and try to think about the good things. I want to remember my nephew as Richard Lollar, the barber. I do not want to remember Richard as being murdered.”
Should she ever speak to Lewis again, she said she has two requests.
“My nephew has a headstone and when I go and visit my nephew’s grave, I do not like bending down and looking down at his grave,” she said. “I would like to be able to stand up and look at him. Also, I would like to get a building, get it lavished and have it in his name — Richard Lollar’s barbershop. I want to remember my nephew as Richard Lollar, the magnificent barber. That would be my closure.”
Always moving forward
Without question, Lewis will be commemorated with a bust in Canton, Ohio. With the deaths of former owner Art Modell, along with family members of both defensive lineman Pernell McPhee and wide receiver Torrey Smith, the Ravens’ season was already emotionally charged, but when Lewis announced this month he would retire, it gave the season a different purpose.
“We know this is the last ride for Ray,” said defensive back Corey Graham. “It’s big. I know for me as a defender, it means a lot. I’m out there with him, an opportunity to play with him probably the last time ever, and you don’t want to be the guy to let him down.”
A player synonymous with the franchise will walk away from the game, and an era in Ravens football will come to an end. Lewis will be one of the greatest players the NFL has ever seen. He will be remembered for everything he’s accomplished on the football field, but not completely defined by it. He will be far removed from the tragedy 13 years ago.
“At the end of the day, all of our eyes will close one day,” Lewis said. “When they do, my only job is to hear those two famous words from God himself, and that’s, ‘Well done.’ Success is one thing; I’ve always believed impact is another. To go out in the communities and change someone’s life, I believe that’s what all of our jobs should be one day.
“It’s not to compete against nobody in this. It’s not to make somebody feel bad or make somebody relive this or relive that. It’s to teach someone how to move forward. No matter what you go through in life, you have to find out a different way how to move forward.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.