Lewis Wants To Get Back to Football

Friday, June 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Ray Lewis walked into the crowded room, stared at the row of TV cameras and let out a long sigh.

``I'm tired. I'm exhausted,'' the star linebacker said Friday. ``Where am I going from here? Back to what I've been doing, playing football and enjoying what I do, showing kids I that there's still a passion for the game even though you're falsely accused about certain things.''

Wearing a colorful shirt, khaki pants and sandals, Lewis spoke from the Baltimore Ravens' training complex, his first news conference since he went to trial in the stabbing deaths of two men after the Super Bowl.

His attire, a stark contrast from the suit he wore daily at trial, was a sign that Lewis is eager to make the transition from accused murderer back to NFL star. The next step will occur Monday, when he dons a jersey and helmet on the first day of the Ravens' veteran minicamp.

Lewis acknowledged he was disappointed in himself for initially lying to police but furious with Paul Howard, the prosecutor who brought murder charges against Lewis and two others in the Jan. 31 deaths outside an Atlanta nightclub.

``Yes, I'm angry at Paul Howard,'' Lewis said. ``Because from Day One I tried to tell him I was an innocent man.''

His lawyer, Ed Garland, said Friday the first words Lewis told him were, ``I am innocent.''

Still, Lewis remains bitter over being tried in the first place.

``I think what I honestly learned is that no matter who you are, no matter how much money you have and no matter who you think you know, that if someone wants to accuse you of something, they will,'' he said.

The murder charges were dropped Sunday, and Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice Monday and sentenced to a year's probation.

``Ray Lewis was totally exonerated,'' said Garland, who called the misdemeanor charge the equivalent of a speeding ticket.

And now Lewis intends to put the entire matter to rest.

``This is done. This is a chapter that needs to be closed,'' he said. ``After this is over, I'm ready to walk away from this because regardless of Ray Lewis being freed of these charges, there are still two people dead.''

Lewis led the NFL in tackles last season and was an integral part of the league's second-ranked defense. He was selected to play in the Pro Bowl but missed the game after being implicated in the Atlanta murders.

His co-defendants remain on trial, and closing arguments were Friday. As part of his plea bargain, Lewis testified on behalf of the prosecution, and he said Friday that he would not concern himself with the fate of his co-defendants.

He missed a minicamp and two other camps this spring, but Lewis said that shouldn't affect his preparation.

``When you've been doing something 15 years, a couple of months of missing it won't make you lose everything that you've learned or gained,'' he said.

Lewis expects his teammates to readily welcome him back. And he will be surprised if he is subjected to trash talk from opponents on game days.

``It would take a person that's heartless to bring this up on the football field because ... two people are dead,'' he said.

Lewis, now a free man, thinks he has learned from his anguish.

``If there's anything I'll change, it's the choices I make,'' he said. ``I've always been a guy who's made great choices. Everybody stumbles every once in a while, but I don't think it's about stumbling. It's about recovering, to see where you go from there.''