NEW YORK — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decided Donte’ Stallworth’s football punishment should last much longer than his 24 days in jail.
The Cleveland Browns receiver, who pleaded guilty to killing a pedestrian while driving drunk, was suspended without pay Thursday for the entire season. He is barred from team activities until he is reinstated after the Super Bowl.
“Your conduct endangered yourself and others, leading to the death of an innocent man,” Goodell wrote in a letter to Stallworth released by the league. “The NFL and NFL players must live with the stain that you have placed on their reputations.”
Stallworth struck 59-year-old crane operator Mario Reyes the morning of March 14 in Miami. He pleaded guilty June 16 to DUI manslaughter, a second-degree felony, and was suspended indefinitely by Goodell two days later.
“Regardless of the length of my suspension, I will carry the burden of Mr. Reyes’ death for the rest of my life,” Stallworth said in a statement. “I urge NFL fans not to judge NFL players or me based on my tragic lapse in judgment. I am a good person who did a bad thing. I will use the period of my suspension to reflect, fulfil my obligations, and use this experience to make a positive impact on the lives of those who look up to NFL players.”
Stallworth drew a 30-day jail sentence and reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the family of Reyes, who was leaving his job when killed. Goodell said he didn’t take the sentence into account in determining if Stallworth violated the league’s substance abuse and personal conduct policies. The commissioner held a hearing with Stallworth, his representatives and union officials Aug. 5. He also met privately with Stallworth on Monday at the 28-year-old player’s request.
“As you recognized both at and following the hearing, guilt or innocence as a matter of criminal law is not the same as a violation of NFL policies,” Goodell wrote.
Stallworth signed a US$35-million, seven-year contract in 2008 and received a $4.5 million roster-signing bonus the night before the crash. He will lose the remaining $745,000 on his deal for 2009.
Browns coach Eric Mangini wouldn’t say whether he was open to bringing Stallworth back next season.
“There’s really no decision that’s been made; there’s no timetable that’s been set,” he said. “The focus is on what we have to do here, the players that are here and that’s really the direction we’re headed.”
This was Goodell’s second high-profile disciplinary decision in the last three weeks. On July 27, he conditionally reinstated Michael Vick after the quarterback served 18 months in prison for running a dogfighting ring.
Police said Stallworth had spent the night drinking at a Miami Beach club and had a blood-alcohol level of .126, above Florida’s .08 legal limit. Besides jail time, his sentence included two years of house arrest, eight years of probation and other restrictions.
Prosecutors have said surveillance video showed Reyes running across MacArthur Causeway and being hit by Stallworth’s 2005 Bentley. On a 911 call, Stallworth said that Reyes “came out of nowhere.”
A police report said Reyes was rushing to catch a bus home. At the time of the plea deal, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle cited Stallworth’s lack of criminal record, co-operation and willingness to accept responsibility.
Rundle also said the Reyes family wanted the case resolved to avoid any more pain.