One day after one of its most dramatic Super Bowls, the NFL's image was dealt another blow when, for the second time in six weeks, one of its players was charged with murder.
Police in Atlanta Monday night arrested Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens in connection with the slaying of two people outside an Atlanta nightclub about six hours after St. Louis stopped Tennessee a yard from the goal line to win the Super Bowl, 23-16.
Lewis, the NFL's leading tackler this season, was taken into custody and was expected to appear in court this morning.
His arrest came after an investigation into the slaying outside a lounge in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood about 4 a.m. Monday.
Two men were stabbed, and witnesses said six men had fought and argued with the two victims. The men fled in a limousine, firing at least five gunshots as they drove away.
Police found the vehicle, with New York license plates, in a parking lot behind a hotel near the shooting scene, Atlanta police spokesman John Quigley said.
Lewis, 24, was the only suspect named by police.
Quigley and Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead declined to release details of the investigation.
One man died at the scene and the other died at Grady Memorial Hospital. The Fulton County Medical Examiner's office identified the victims as Jacinta Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, both of Decatur, Ga.
Despite the report of shots, Atlanta police Lt. M.C. Smith said the preliminary investigation indicated both victims were stabbed to death.
On Dec. 14, Carolina Panther wide receiver Rae Carruth was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Cherica Adams, who was pregnant with their son. Carruth was released by the Panthers after the charges were made. Carruth was indicted Jan. 4.
Carruth, free on $3-million bail on earlier charges, failed to turn himself into Charlotte, N.C., authorities, and was apprehended by the FBI a day later while hiding in the trunk of a car outside of a motel in Wildersville, Tenn., 100 miles northeast of Memphis.
Last Friday, in his state of the NFL address to media gathered in Atlanta for the Super Bowl, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue commented on the recent rash of criminal charges against current NFL players.
"Can we separate ourselves from society? Of course not," Tagliabue said. "We can't predict what NFL players will do any more than we can predict students shooting other students or workers shooting fellow workers."
Lewis was drafted by Baltimore in the first round in 1996 after leaving the University of Miami following his junior season. He was the Ravens' most valuable player this season and in 1997.
"We're trying to gather as much information as we can," Raven spokesman Kevin Byrne said. "Frankly, most of the information we have received has been through the media. We have not spoken to Ray Lewis yet . . . We're waiting until we get more information until we comment."
Lewis had been scheduled to leave Atlanta on Monday morning for the Pro Bowl, to be played Sunday in Honolulu, Byrne said.
Lewis was an All-American for Miami and finished second in the voting for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.
In December, Lewis was accused of punching a woman in a Baltimore bar and leaving the scene. He was served a criminal summons in response to a complaint by Katrice Sherree Parker.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.