As everyone knows by this point, the most popular tale of second chances this season in football was the one of Michael Vick, who was reinstated last season after going to prison for his involvement in a dog fighting ring and has become the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. The main theme for this story is “redemption,” as a player rose, fell, then rose again to become one of the most talked-about subplots of the NFL in 2010.
Another NFL player went through a similar journey, albeit not one as constantly publicized. Donte’ Stallworth, a wide receiver currently with the Baltimore Ravens, spent a year away from the NFL after hitting and killing a construction worker while driving under the influence of alcohol. Stallworth spent 24 days in jail and was suspended by Roger Goodell for a season, and the Cleveland Browns, the team who signed Stallworth, terminated his contract. He returned to the NFL this season with Baltimore on a one-year contract and despite breaking his foot in the preseason, was able to make the active roster and play. He hasn’t gotten the type of attention Vick has, however.
This week, Stallworth was awarded the Ed Block Courage award, something which is given to a player from each of the 32 teams in the NFL. The recipient of the award is decided by the players on the team. You could tell what the award meant to Stallworth from Aaron Wilson’s story.
Back in August, Les Carpenter of Yahoo! Sports wrote something about Stallworth that some people might have not noticed. Stallworth could have fought the charges in his case with proof that would find him innocent but decided to save the mess of a trial and take the charges without defending them.
Overshadowed, though, is what Stallworth did after it was clear he had accidentally killed a man with his car. He ordered his lawyers to accept a plea deal that convicted him of a felony even when evidence showed he had an excellent chance of being found innocent. He said Reyes’ death was enough of his fault that there shouldn’t be a trial and Reyes’ family shouldn’t have to sit in a courthouse and relive his death all over again.
“He did the right thing,” said Boucher, who has known Stallworth since his rookie year of 2002. “I’m more proud of him as a friend for the way he handled this than I was before this situation happened.”
“He could have taken 15 different approaches,” Boucher said. “He could have had people persuade him to take a more aggressive [defensive] position. He wouldn’t do that. He took responsibility.
“His biggest concern was for the gentleman’s daughter. He wanted [Reyes’] family to know he was remorseful.”
Over and over, members of Stallworth’s elite team of attorneys shouted at him to fight the charges. They said there was no way to prove who was at fault. Reyes, after all, dashed across a busy freeway to catch a bus near a green light that rarely turns red. There was other evidence, never released to the public, Boucher said, that the lawyers wanted to give that would aid Stallworth’s case. Still he said no.
“The irony,” said one of Stallworth’s attorneys, David Cornwell, “is that a lot of the media and public was angry with the deal that he took. And the thing they wanted, for him to go to trial, was the thing he was trying to avoid for the family.”
Allow me to say that I am not in any way condoning what Stallworth did. It was a horrible act of irresponsibility that cost an innocent man his life; however, Stallworth has done everything and more that he can to try and fix the damage he has done to the victim’s family. I feel that shouldn’t be overlooked.
My reasoning for the fact that Stallworth’s story has pretty much gone under the radar is due to the fact that he’s not producing at a very high level on the field. Vick has put up numbers and until Tuesday’s game against the Vikings, was being seriously considered as an MVP candidate. Stallworth’s stats are two receptions for 82 yards and four rushes for 30 yards in seven games. I’m just glad that despite the lack of productivity on Sunday nights, there’s still a way for Stallworth’s story to be recognized, and it’s good to see his teammates know that too.