If you follow me on Instagram and Threads, you know that I am a Buffalo Bills fan. Yes, this has more to do with being from Buffalo than a love of the game - but we take what we can when we move away from home. Having something nationally broadcast to connect me to my family, friends, and community is invaluable. Even when they break my heart, they’ll always be my Buffalo Bills.
Luckily, this is sports, they don’t matter, and I am allowed to bandwagon. My second choice team is typically the Pittsburgh Steelers because my extended family hails from the banks of the three rivers. My third team is the Baltimore Ravens for an even more fun reason: they’re named after the Edgar Allan Poe poem, The Raven. They face off against Taylor Swift’s boyfriend - I mean the Kansas City Chiefs soon and really, as much as I love (and support) Jason Kelce’s enthusiasm for his brother- I want the Ravens to win.
Want to know a surprising thing the Bills and the Ravens have in common? They both have a former star player who seemed to get out of a murder charge. The Bills have the 1994 trial of OJ Simpson, notably “if the glove does not fit you must acquit”. The Ravens have the 2001 trial in Atlanta of Ray Lewis.
This investigation and trial are the subject of a new podcast from Tenderfoot TV The Raven. As the story goes, Lewis was out partying in Atlanta after the 2000 Superbowl (AKA Superbowl 34 for those of us who don’t want to deal with Roman numerals). The linebacker was clubbing an entourage when a fight broke out between a group of men from Akron, Ohio, and Lewis’ group. Two men from the Akron group died - Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. They were killed with what are known as punch knives or punch blades. Knives that can fit between your fingers as you punch someone. Ray Lewis was originally charged with murder and aggravated assault next to Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting. During the trial a deal was made - and Ray Lewis was able to walk away from the trial and back into NFL glory.
The podcast strives to find the full story. Many suspect, including the victims’ families, that Lewis had more to do with the murders than is being disclosed. The Raven is hosted, and investigated by Tim Livingston, a sports writer who previously created Whisleblower about an NBA betting scandal. This podcast has the tell-tale mark of a Tenderfoot TV true-crime endeavor. There is all of the drama and scope of any crime podcast - the design and production are exciting and push the story forward. You are wrapped in the high drama past, through interviews with witnesses, investigators, and prosecutors who all have a piece of an increasingly complex puzzle. Did the NFL cover-up Lewis’ involvement?
While we speculate on what the sports empire did or didn’t do, we also need to look between the lines. What makes it a Tenderfoot TV true-crime podcast is that there’s also heart. Through the episodes, you discover Livingston’s true connection to this story, a tragedy he once witnessed mirrors the murders of Baker and Loller. You find an investigation not only into the truth of what happened the night of the Superbowl that year but also what happens to anyone when they’re faced with such a high-stakes tragedy. Woven in between an investigation into this murder trial, is an investigation into the human mind. What happens, what do we do, how do we move forward from the darkness?
I’m lucky and I got to listen to more than the two episodes out right now. Four episodes into Livingston’s investigation, I know this is going to be a story that encompasses more than the untimely death of two men. Listeners will see how the system fails, how people are coerced, how people lie, and maybe listeners can walk away from it knowing just a little bit more about how to live with the darkness we encounter at the hands of our fellow human beings.
The Bigger Picture
True crime can be difficult to engage with. So much of it feels or is exploitative. While this is nothing new, we can talk more about this phenomenon in the age of the internet. People can have a wider-reaching voice when something happens - whether it be the families of victims, the families of perpetrators, or even the lackluster true crime obsessed who forget about humanity. It's for better and for worse.
I try to highlight the true crime podcasts that I think are doing more. As much as my opening was a joke: this podcast is coming out and creating a timely intersection with NFL games that are the most watched in history. The NFL is a massive entertainment entity, and like anything with money, it also has its issues. Most notably paying out players of color less for their long-term brain injuries than they paid out white players.
So while we sit and wonder what the Kelce brothers or Taylor Swift will do next, we also have to sit and ask ourselves what we're engaging with and supporting. Just like we have to decide if we're going to support or ignore a true crime podcast, as also have to choose when and how to support something like the NFL. The same NFL that was a non-profit until 2015. They pay their stagehands minimum wage for the halftime show.
For me? I'm not perfect, I know this. The new stadium for the Bills is costing a suspicious amount of taxpayer money. The head coach was put on blast for saying questionable things during practice a few years ago. Yet I hold onto the fact at least the fan base, the Bills Mafia, has a long history of sometimes silly philanthropy that makes me happy to be a part of the community. While people are jumping on tables and catching on fire, they're also using their big hearts all the time. Nothing is going to be perfect, but a critical eye is always necessary - and not just for the art you're consuming.
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PS: If you want to support Tyler Bass' chosen charity in the wake of the fact that poor sports have bullied the kicker off of social media - the Ten Lives Club is an excellent cause. They're a cat rescue in Buffalo and look at all those little faces.