Fan reaction to Jamal Lewis' indictment yesterday on federal drug charges was mostly subdued at ESPN Zone. There was no scathing criticism of the Ravens' star running back, who nearly broke Eric Dickerson's NFL single-season rushing mark last season.
Instead, opinions ranged from questioning to skeptical, with some citing the timing of the indictment for an alleged offense that occurred nearly four years ago.
Although some said they think Lewis should not be coddled if he is found guilty, others thought more in terms of the effect it would have on the field.
"I was kind of shocked," said Greg King, 24, a Canton native who grew up in the area. "I didn't think it would really amount to much if he's found guilty because it happened before he was in the NFL. All I could think was if he gets suspended, the Ravens are in trouble."
Lewis, 24, who has violated the NFL's substance abuse policy twice and was suspended for four games in the 2001 season for a repeat violation, is expected to turn himself in to authorities today, a convenience that at least one person at ESPN Zone said he found disturbing.
"We feel like [athletes] get easier treatment than the rest of us," said Mike Radder, 44, a Buffalo, N.Y., native in town on business. "How many of us would get to turn ourselves in?"
Sandy Romeo, 40, a Ravens fan who lives in Rochester, N.Y., said Lewis, who could face a minimum of 10 years in federal prison if convicted, should get no special treatment because he's a professional athlete.
"The same thing should happen to him that would happen to everyone else [if Lewis is found guilty]," Romeo said. "No mercy. At the same time, he should be treated fairly [in the legal process]."
Other fans said they were skeptical about the credibility of the indictment, given the time of the alleged offense - in the summer of 2000, before Lewis' NFL career - and because he's a high-profile athlete.
"This is something that happened four years ago," said John Brickhouse, 30, a waiter at ESPN Zone. "I just think someone's out to get the man. It's a little reminiscent of the Ray Lewis scandal, though not quite as big."
Lewis has rushed for 4,757 yards in a little more than three seasons with the Ravens, including 2,066 last season, and has established himself as one of the team's most effective players.
"The fact that it was Jamal, the fact that he might have been a part of it, is surprising to me," said Preston Crutchfield, 40, who also expressed doubt that Lewis would be harshly punished if convicted and that this would serve as any type of deterrent for would-be offenders. "I can't see him getting any jail time if he's guilty. Let's face it. There are guys playing that have done the same thing. There's a perception the judicial system isn't consistent. It isn't applied the same way."