ATLANTA FALCONS STAR ANDRE RISON still appears in shock as he sits at the edge of a deserted football field in Suwanee, Ga. Just now, says Rison, the only way he could imagine finding any peace would be by going out to the 50-yard line, lying down and wailing for the night. “Then when it gets real quiet,” he says, “I think I’d be able to hear her voice. I still love her, you know.”
It is hard to believe, but the voice Rison, 27, longs to hear belongs to his girlfriend, Lisa Lopes, 23, a singer with the hot hip-hop group TLC, who just four days earlier had shown Rison anything but tender loving care. In the early hours of June 9, after they had fought and Andre walked out, Lopes allegedly put a match to cardboard in the upstairs whirlpool bath of Rison’s million-dollar Atlanta mansion, destroying it, along with just about everything Andre owned. Then for good measure, she reportedly smashed his Toyota truck and two Mercedes-Benz cars.
According to her lawyer Darryl Cohen, Lopes—who has been charged with felony arson and is out on $75,000 bail—had been beaten and abused. “Lisa is in fear of her life,” says Cohen of the rapper whose debut album, Oooooooh…on the TLC Tip, which sold 2.8 million copies, featured songs about standing up to macho men.
Rison flatly denies ever abusing her. “It hurts me,” he says, “because I’m not like that. We did everything together—shopped, cooked, laughed, cried, went to nightclubs, parks, functions…”
One of the top receivers in pro football, Rison met Lopes in March 1993. “It didn’t matter to me that she was a celebrity,” he says. “It was just her that I loved.” Even before the fire, however, the couple had a combustive relationship. Last September, Rison was arrested in a supermarket parking lot for allegedly beating Lopes and firing a handgun to discourage others from intervening. Charges were later dropped.
Lately, though, Rison claims to have toned down his act—even to have become something of a homebody. Yet on the night of June 8, Rison went out clubbing with friends. Rison insists, however, that he was “very sober” at 5 a.m., when he finally made it home.
Lisa, he says, was already out in the driveway screaming at him. “I knew she’d been drinking some,” he says. “But I didn’t know what was upsetting her. I started taking blows to the face. Finally, I grabbed her and asked her what was wrong. But she kept coming at me.”
Rison says he eventually slapped Lopes, “not to hurt her, but to calm her. Didn’t work. We were inside the house now, and I picked her up and slammed her on the bed and sat on her. I still couldn’t control her. So I left. I went on a 20-mile walk.”
Meanwhile, back at the house, things apparently went from bad to worse. Reggie Brown, Rison’s brother, reportedly saw her standing over the whirlpool, watching the flames grow higher and shouting, “I don’t care anymore!”
Rison spent the morning at the house of teammate Jason Phillips, still unaware of what had happened. Then around 9 a.m., Jason’s wife, Jeanette, drove him home. “There were all these fire trucks,” says Rison. “I couldn’t believe it. I just sat down and cried.”
That night, Andre rode his motorcycle to the Falcons training camp in Suwanee, about 40 miles north of Atlanta. En route, he says, he thought briefly about swerving into the expressway median. “It was like I’d gone the full limit,” he says.
On Friday, Lopes turned herself in to Atlanta police. She won’t talk to the press. But her mother, Wanda, who reared Lisa in Philadelphia, describes her as a “real caring person.” Wanda denies that her daughter has a hot temper. But on June 15, lawyer Cohen announced that Lisa had “voluntarily entered a rehabilitation program.” A person close to Lopes said it was for alcohol abuse.
Andre, meanwhile, feels a sense of loss. Sitting beside the field in Suwanee, he is talking about Lisa and his tattoos. “This one we designed together,” he says, pointing to a snake surrounding a musical note.
“I have cried a lot,” Andre continues. “But I can’t say that I’ve shed one tear for the house. I can replace a house, but I can’t replace the life I had, or a certain girl.”
GAIL CAMERON WESCOTT in Atlanta