By now, everyone knows what happened. Cleveland Browns' wide receiver and ex-Patriot, Donte Stallworth, was convicted of DUI manslaughter after hitting a man who was running across a busy street to catch a bus. This is an unmitigated tragedy for the family of the man killed in the crash, but it raises a number of questions: "Do professional athletes get preferential treatment?" and possibly more important, "Can money buy anything?" Before I get into this, let me present the parameters in the case:
- After a night out, drinking at a bar, Stallworth was doing 50 MPH in a 40 MPH zone
- Reyes was running across the street, outside of a crosswalk, to catch a bus
- Stallworth struck and killed Mario Reyes, a 59 year old construction worker
- Stallworth stopped his car and called 911
- Stallworth submitted to a roadside breathalyzer and blew a .126, well above the legal limit of .08
- Stallworth pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter and started 30 days of jail time on June 16th
- The Reyes family will receive an undisclosed financial settlement from Stallworth
- The NFL is reviewing the matter for possible disciplinary action
Commissioner Roger Goodell has an interesting condundrum on his desk. He needs to send a message that athletes are not above the law and, maybe more importantly, the NFL is capable of policing its own. The NFL enjoys a cozy antitrust excemption and Goodell doesn't want anyone poking around with a clipboard as was ALMOST the case with Spygate (Senator Specky anyone?). I'm not suggesting these are similar, just that Goodell needs to make sure appearances are above board when handling this.
Do professional athletes get preferential treatment? Is 30 days in jail REALLY enough for killing a man? It's probably safe to say anyone with money and/or access gets special treatment. The average 9-to-5 stiff would not have the funds to settle with the family in the manner that Stallworth did (it's hard to hide a $4.5 million roster bonus received the day before the crash). The average stiff would lose everything: job, house, cars, 401k... every asset the plaintiff could get their hands on. And many would say, "Rightly so." Someone has to provide for the family and that someone should be the defendant.
So on the outside, 30 days in jail plus a lifetime driver's license suspension and community service may not seem like enough, but it was enough for the Reyes family. They want to move past this tragic event and, with the help of the financial settlement, will be taken care of. Money can't bring back Mario Reyes, but it can take care of those left behind.
Which brings me back to Goodell. As mentioned above, Goodell needs to send a message that the NFL is capable of policing its own. He needs to be stern, but careful. Banning Stallworth from playing football may seem like the proper knee jerk reaction, but how would that affect the Reyes family? How would Stallworth have the means to fulfill his financial obligation to the family? Stallworth, the Reyes Family, and the NFL are inexorably tied together for the forseeable future. Maybe, just maybe, some good may come of this tragedy.