If the Ravens’ qualification for Super Bowl XLVII dusted off long-forgotten memories of the alleged involvement of Ray Lewis in a double murder, the Aaron Hernandez situation has sandblasted them. And with the Patriots dumping Hernandez the moment he was arrested in connection with the death of Odin Lloyd, the contrast between the respective approaches of the two franchises to situation involving murder became as sharp as possible.
While many believe the Patriots must have had access to inside information about the Hernandez investigation at the time he was cut, the more accurate assumption would be that the Patriots decided early in the process, without the benefit of any specific intelligence about the case, that no employee arrested in connection with a murder investigation is fit to remain employed by the team.
The Ravens came to the exact opposite conclusion. The man who coached the team at the time, Brian Billick, recently compiled an exhaustive explanation of the team’s reasoning and approach to the Lewis situation.
Billick explains that the team’s decision to rally around Lewis arose from their faith in his “overall innocence.” In so doing, Billick implies that the Patriots had no faith in Hernandez’s innocence.
But Lewis was hardly “innocent.” Lewis wouldn’t have been arrested, charged, and prosecuted based on no evidence. Prosecutors routinely walk away from trying to secure a conviction under the very high standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt if they believe that the evidence, while pointing to the defendant’s guilt, nevertheless creates an opening for an “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” concoction of enough doubt to secure an acquittal. Moreover, judges don’t allow cases to go to trial absent the existence of enough evidence to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the high bar of proof beyond a reasonable doubt had been met.
For Ray Lewis, the prosecutor eventually decided to cut a deal, and Lewis decided not to tell the prosecutor to pound sand/salt/whatever and force the trial to a verdict. This wasn’t a case where the charges were dropped with no strings attached. Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in order to escape the far more serious charge of murder.
The Ravens had no qualms about welcoming back to the team without suspension or other punishment (other than the $250,000 fine imposed by the league) a man who pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in a murder case. New England’s swift and decisive action regarding Hernandez this week amounts to a clear statement that, even if Hernandez had simply lied to the police or concealed evidence regarding a murder, any alleged wrongdoing regarding a murder provides enough reason to move on.
Right or wrong, the Ravens treated Ray Lewis far differently than the Patriots treated Hernandez. And while it seems that Billick may be trying in artful fashion to soften some of the harsh, inescapable realities the Ray Lewis case, the fact remains that the Ravens had no qualms about embracing and defending a man who clearly had enough involvement to result in a judge allowing a murder trial to proceed, and in Lewis eventually entering a guilty plea for a crime related to the killings. The Patriots, in contrast, opted to have no further involvement with anyone who had done anything, actually or allegedly, that would get him arrested in connection with the intentional death of another human.
For each organization, it sets a precedent that they surely hope they’ll never have to use in a similar case.