A few observations about I Feel Like Going On: Life, Game, And Glory, the new Ray Lewis book wherein he addresses the night he and his friends were involved in an incident that would end in a double murder, if only briefly.
Co-/ghostwriter Daniel Paisner voices Ray Lewis to the page about as vividly as is possible in the language without printing the thing on a stack of church suits. It isn’t just the italics for emphasis—though, just look at them all; the whole thing is like that; it’s like Magary transcribing First Take with a broken capslock key—but how he nails the rising and falling of cadence, the pithy bluntness of a Ray Lewis motivational, the call-and-self-response of a passage like, “We were nowhere. But we told ourselves nowhere was okay, long as we were headed somewhere. As long as we were rising. And we were.” This poor man will be slipping in and out of Ray-speak for the next 18 months.
The book runs just over 250 pages, but doesn’t make you work too hard to find what you’re looking for. When you crack it open and flip to the glossy photos section, the page opposite the final image (Lewis posing, pointing pretty much at the crotch of the statue in his likeness that stands outside M&T Bank Stadium) begins Chapter 9, “Atlanta.”
The chapter is meticulously laid out. It begins by providing place and time, describing where Lewis was at in his career before getting into the weather that week (there was a storm), his mother (she advised him not to go), and his clothes (which we will come back to shortly). We then get several hundred words of trolling Eddie George, particularly about the time, during a College All-Americans press event, that Lewis trolled Eddie so hard the latter removed his shirt and challenged Lewis to a fight on the field. (“Eddie was all riled. He even ripped off his shirt and started making like these other dudes had to hold him back from jumping me—you know, just a bunch of testosterone nonsense, locker room nonsense, but I was getting all riled up, too.”)
This seems like a bizarre way to open a chapter that climaxes in a double homicide, at least until you look at the underlying architecture. Ostensibly, the George business is about watching Eddie George play in the Super Bowl, and how jealous that made Lewis in the moment. What’s actually going on here, though, is Lewis laying down a framework of de-escalation. As the two were ready to fight, agent Duane Martin stepped in and eased them back by offering each a paintball gun. Both players walked away, and the parable was cast: Ray Lewis is peaceable. He loves his mother. He really loves his wardrobe.
About that. When we get into the portion of the night leading up to the fight, we get more Ray Lewis style advice. He goes over what he wore to the club:
My postgame look was all about style. I put on a suit, a long mink coat. I put on some bling, too—a Piaget watch, a bold lock chain, a jammin’ set of earrings. All that jewelry, plus my mink coat, I must have been wearing about a quarter-million dollars, but those were heady times, man. This was how we rolled, me and my boys, and when you come from nothing like I did, step into all this money like I did, you’re bound to strut a little bit. I was over the top, I’ll admit. Way, way over the top. I get that. I’m sorry. Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed about all that now, but this was the mentality, and I only mention it here because it became a part of the story.
The way in which it becomes part of the story here, in Ray Lewis’s book, is as the first of two central arguments about Why Ray Lewis Didn’t Do Any Murdering. Here’s the passage, which comes after Lewis provides his account of how tensions rose (he says was protecting a scantily clad woman from aggressive advances):
Then, just as I was about to set down myself this one dude from the group ran toward me. He was all worked up, agitated,. He turned to his friends and said, “Man, f*** Ray Lewis! Kill that nigger, dawg!”
It took me back, hearing this kind of ugly talk—from a black dude, no less. But I could see him and his gangbangers starting to circle, so I said, “Hey, look man. Ain’t nobody doing all this right now. Let’s just move on.” Right then, I took this as my signal to get everybody out of there, and all hell broke loose from that moment. Remember, I was dressed out, had my jewelry on, my fine mink coat. I wasn’t about to start mixing it up looking like that. That’s a general rule of thumb when you’re doing the town and looking good. The nicer you’re dressed, the less inclined you are to fight—that is, if you’re even inclined in that way to begin with. Anyway, we’d all been down this way before, knew enough to know it was just a bunch of noise, just a bunch of nonsense, so the thing to do to diffuse all that noise and nonsense was to show each other what you had. It was like a standoff-type situation, and there really wasn’t any more to it than that. Only thing flying around was words, but at the same time there was trouble in the air. You could kind of feel it.
This is a baffling line of argument by Lewis, whose clothes on the night in question have always been of interest to the investigation. A witness for the prosecution in the murder case testified that she saw another limo passenger place a hotel laundry bag in a dumpster; prosecutors alleged that the bag contained Lewis’s bloodied white suit. The suit was never found.
From there, Lewis gets to the fight itself. One of the guys starting problems hit Reginald Oakley, a member of Lewis’s party, over the head with a Moët bottle. The description of the fight itself lasts just half a paragraph:
Reginald’s head was just split, and he was bleeding all over the place, and people were yelling and menacing and scuffling. Those next few moments—maybe thirty seconds, maybe a full minute—were just crazy on top of crazy, but I didn’t engage with these dudes. No, sir. I tried to disengage, pushing the girls back in the car, and we all piled inside. Reginald was able to separate himself from the mix and join us; we started to drive off.
The party drives away, under gunfire, but no one is injured. Ray Lewis once again avoids conflict that seems to be seeking him out.
At trial, Lewis testified that after the fight, Richard Sweeting told him he had thrown punches with a knife; this goes unaddressed by the book. Lewis also testified that he tried to stop the fight, which is left unclear in this retelling; others testified that they saw Lewis himself throw a punch, but did not see a knife. The gory details of what happened next are a matter of record, but not crucial to Lewis’s telling here, as we come to the second and more major theme of the chapter, Lewis’s treatment by the Atlanta police.
The remaining 16 pages of the chapter (about half its length) are dedicated to exactly what happened once Lewis was contacted by the police. Here’s how the first exchange went down, after he’d worked out a meeting place for what he believed to be an interview as a witness.
He said, “I guarantee you’ll fall for this one.”
Those were the first words out of his mouth.
I guarantee you’ll fall for this one.
I said, “What?”
Like I needed this man to repeat himself—but he did. He elaborated on it, too. Told me it was people like me, with money, thought we were above the law, better than the law. That we were to blame for what was wrong in the world. There was all kinds of ignorant nonsense coming out of this hateful cop’s mouth. And it set me off. I’m sorry, but I got my back up. I knew better, but there it was—in front of my kids, even.
Lewis explains that his obstruction of justice charge came out of this exchange, that it stemmed from not remembering the names of everyone in the car, some of whom he’d met just minutes before. He says that once it became clear he had to cop to something, he got stuck here, on this. It’s a throwaway line, but foundational for the emerging theme of unfair treatment by police. Except: Lewis’s obstruction of justice charge also involved the allegation that he told limousine passengers to “keep their mouths shut.”
From there, a heated exchange followed between Lewis and two cops, particularly the one who “seemed to have it out for me.” His temper rose, but he controlled himself—just as he had years prior, face-to-face with Eddie George. After leaving the house where he was staying to make a flight, two cop cars tailed his car, and eventually trolled it into slowing enough to miss the flight. He returned to the house, talked to his lawyer, and eventually called his mother, whereupon he says he was interrupted by nine police officers entering his home and forcing him from the phone. He says he was cuffed, dragged across his front lawn, bounced around the back seat of a paddy wagon, and finally perp walked into the courthouse, where he was charged. We’ll pick back up there:
The charges made no sense. Told myself, that district attorney, he would suffer for this. Told myself, Ray, you got praying folks in your corner. That was my mind-set at the time. I came at this thing from a place of rage, a place of revenge. But in the end, I would be the one to suffer. Those poor boys, they paid the ultimate price, how many things went down for them that night. But me, I was made to pay for their deaths. In the court of public opinion, I was made to pay. In the detention facilities of the city of Atlanta, Georgia, I was made to pay.
I was crucified, man.
The Passion of Ray Lewis takes up the remainder of the chapter, including the Holy Ghost descending upon an Atlanta holding cell:
I heard God’s voice. I did. he came to me from somewhere in the darkness of that holding cell—said, “Can you hear me now?”
And underneath this voice, in the middle of that darkness, there was a message—came in clear and loud and true.
The message: whatever much and more I had to slog through in that jail cell in Atlanta, it would strengthen me.
Whatever shadows there were now, hanging over me and my family, it would strengthen me.
Whatever dirt these people in law enforcement were determined to do to my name, my standing, my pride, it would only strengthen me.
Can you hear me now?
Oh yes—yes, I can hear you! Yes!
The edifying effect of that time in jail, to hear Lewis tell it, was what led him to settle the civil suit as well: “It was not an admission of guilt—it was an expression of love, of sympathy.”
The chapter ends just about where it began, with advice from Lewis’s mother, who had warned against the trip down to Atlanta:
My mama, she had some scripture of her own to share with me when I was in custody, when it was looking for a time like I might never find my way out of this mess. She said, “Put your trust in no man, Baby ray,” she said. “Put your trust in God.”
I was done walking in that darkness. I was tired of it. So I stepped outside and walked in the light.
Photo credit: AP