Magic words for football fans: Not guilty

With NFL acquittals running rampant throughout the land, it makes you downright proud to be a fan.

By Anthony York

Published June 14, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Never mind that Carolina Panthers receiver Rae Carruth allegedly arranged the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. Forget for a minute that Green Bay Packers tight end/Boy Scout Mark Chmura was summarily cut as he awaits trial on charges of having nonconsensual sex with a neighbor's underage daughter after drinking with her and her friends after their prom.

This month, the National Football League has begun the slow crawl on the road to redemption. The news from the courtrooms the past two weeks -- with not one, but two football-related acquittals -- is sort of like finding your family pet injured but alive after a tornado levels your house: The damage may be done, but there is something to cling to amid the rubble.

The first came in the case of Ray Lewis, who led the NFL in tackles for the Baltimore Ravens last season. Lewis had been charged with murder in the deaths of two men stabbed during a street fight outside a nightclub after the Super Bowl in Atlanta in January. Those charges were dropped June 6 when he copped a plea to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice. He'll receive one year's probation. Two friends and former codefendants of the Ravens star were acquitted on murder and assault charges Monday.

In Florida Tuesday, kicker Sebastian Janikowski, the first-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders, was acquitted on a charge that he tried to bribe a policeman. Janikowski had been threatened with deportation to his native Poland, but now seems poised to sign a seven-figure contract with the Silver and Black. Perhaps this will help rehabilitate the Raiders' bad-boy image, which they used to intimidate teams throughout the 1970s and early '80s. A team's gotta be bad news if the placekicker has a rap sheet.

So far, it has been the kind of month that makes you proud to be a football fan.

Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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