I don’t know of too many people in the NFL who believed that Donte’ Stallworth was going to be playing football this season, given the severity of his actions — driving drunk and killing a man with his vehicle — and the very public stance Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken against drunk driving.
Goodell’s tenure has been defined in many ways by his consistency in terms of decisions regarding player conduct, and today’s ruling, in which Stallworth was suspended for the entire 2009 season, came as no surprise. To me, it is the right thing to do, and there were a couple of key paragraphs in Goodell’s letter to Stallworth that summed up his stance when it comes to these transgressions.
The Commissioner wrote:
“In my view, the essential facts are that you had alcohol in your system well above the legal limit, made a conscious decision to drive, and struck and killed a man. As you recognize, this conduct and the loss of life has caused serious damage to the NFL and NFL players generally. Legal arguments that focus on criminal liability under Florida law do not diminish that damage or your responsibility for your conduct.”
“Despite a repeated emphasis on the importance of avoiding driving under the influence of alcohol, you chose to drive under circumstances where you were legally impaired. And you did so even though safe and confidential alternatives, such as the “Safe Ride” program, were available to you. Your conduct endangered yourself and others, leading to the death of an innocent man. The NFL and NFL players must live with the stain that you have placed on their reputations.”
This is something that, as the commissioner points out, could have been avoided. And this decision is very much in line with everything we have seen. Stallworth cannot be signed until after the Super Bowl. There is no denying that he took full responsibility for his actions, and has expressed sincere remorse and grief, but as the commissioner has pointed out, being an NFL player is a privilege, and not a right.
Most of all, I can’t fathom the mental and emotional toll this accident will take on Stallworth as he moves forward. That, to me, is the most profound punishment of all in this sad event, where a good person made a poor decision.