— The sad part is he will be released in time for training camp, free to enjoy the trivial pursuit of flying footballs, unless no-nonsense NFL commissioner Roger Goodell does what the legal system couldn’t: keep the handcuffs on Donte' Stallworth a while longer.
A 59-year old man will never again see his wife or hold his daughter because he was killed while crossing the street by Stallworth, who was legally tipsy and speeding in Miami Beach at the time. And after lawyering up and copping pleas and buying off the family of Mario Reyes, Stallworth got off with 30 wrist-slapping days, a hell of a lot lighter than Michael Vick did, even in dog years.
There’s something atrociously wrong with this, when a human life doesn’t weigh the same as an animal’s on the scales of justice, or in our society, for that matter. Notice there was no national outcry on behalf of Reyes, no special interest group picketing in his memory, not even a tear shed by Pekingese owners.
Just like Vick’s dogs, Reyes was innocent and defenseless when his fate was sealed by a reckless NFL player whose punishment for drinking and driving, handed down yesterday, seems a lot flimsier than a David Letterman apology.
Well, OK, let’s concede the apples-to-oranges details of the cases between Vick and Stallworth. Vick lied to the feds about running and bankrolling a dogfighting outfit that caused the brutal destruction of dogs, strictly for entertainment. Had he fessed and showed remorse from the get-go, Vick might have side-stepped significant jail time as easily as he would a clumsy linebacker. Instead, he refused to man up, and for that, he got 23 months. That’s about the right price to pay for being a chump.
Stallworth was a lot smarter in the immediate aftermath of taking someone’s life. He did not gun the gas pedal of his Bentley and flee after hitting Reyes. He quickly wrote a check to grieving family members and essentially bought their silence; there will be no further public outcry from them. Then he used another chunk of the millions he gets from the Cleveland Browns to hire a competent defense team. He didn’t murder anyone, and for pleading guilty to second-degree DUI manslaughter, he caught a sympathetic vote of confidence from the system.
Vick was a cold killer, Stallworth an unintentional one. True enough. Their motives were different. No doubt.
And so what?
Nothing changes the lopsided verdict.
Almost two years for Vick?
Not even two months for Stallworth?
For whatever reason, our justice system gets weak in the knees when it comes to certain manslaughter cases, especially those involving athletes with enough money to sway the circumstances in their favor. It’s downright criminal that Stallworth got 30 days while his victim got life, especially in light of the hammer laid on Vick.
But such is the lucky fate of too many athletes who indirectly cause someone’s death. Susan Gutweiler might agree if she could, except she was killed by a drunk St. Louis Rams defensive end, and the best that justice could whip up for Leonard Little was 90 days and four years probation. Hell, why didn’t the prosecutors just ask for his autograph? Just to show how “reformed” he was, Little was arrested for drunk driving six years later and escaped with a speeding ticket as punishment. Even worse, during all this, he continued to be hailed as a football hero and cheered by Rams fans who forgot about Susan Gutweiler for three hours on Sunday afternoons.
Gus Christofi, too, might wonder why Jayson Williams never served a day in jail for flipping a loaded shotgun in the direction of the limo driver, then frantically orchestrating a cover-up when the gun went off, killing Christofi. But we all know why this outcome was bound to happen. The family of Christofi snatched a $2.75 million settlement almost before the ink was dry on the check, and the best defense attorneys money could buy made sure Williams would suffer a lot less than Christofi.
If Jim Leyritz still had the millions he made in Major League Baseball, you think he’d still be in the mess he’s in now, after killing a mother while driving drunk?
When someone decides to drink and then take the wheel, they should not get a love tap by a judge’s gavel. Their time for showing remorse should’ve been when they turned the key in the ignition. Anything that happens next, particularly if it involves taking someone’s life, must be weighed at punishment time, and no amount of money or fame or athletic ability should minimize the sentence.
Or would you disagree, if that were your father or husband who crossed the road in Miami Beach that morning?
Donte' Stallworth might be a nice guy, upstanding citizen, decent football player and all that, but when he mixed the most toxic of all drinks — alcohol and car keys — he indirectly chose to pay a steep price for stupidity. Except the price wasn’t so steep after all.
Eventually, he’ll get back on the field, and catch passes, and score touchdowns, and a football nation will judge him on that. Meanwhile, the most famous dog killer in history will always be judged by his crime, instead of any footballs he throws from here.
The commissioner of the NFL, sensitive to law-breaking football players who take their God-given talent and good fortune for granted, will surely put Stallworth on the bench to start the season. Too bad Goodell can’t put him where he truly belongs.