Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte' Stallworth has been suspended without pay for the entire 2009 season as a result of his guilty plea to DUI manslaughter. The NFL announced the punishment Thursday; one day shy of four months after Stallworth struck and killed a pedestrian named Mario Reyes while driving drunk.
Stallworth will be reinstated after the Super Bowl of 2010. He may not participate in any league or team activities until then, as stated by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
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. Here, longstanding league policies make clear that discipline is warranted "if a player is convicted of or admits to a violation of the law...relating to the use of alcohol." The degree of discipline may take into account "aggravating circumstances, including but not limited to felonious conduct or felonious injury or death of third parties..." All of those factors are present here. There is no question that your actions had tragic consequences to an innocent man and his family, and that you have violated both the Substances of Abuse and Personal Conduct Policies. In that respect, you are clearly guilty of conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL. ...
Nor do I find that the outcome in the Florida courts is controlling in terms of determining disciplinary consequences within the NFL. The considerations that applied in Florida, particularly with respect to criminal standards of proof, claims of contributory negligence, consideration of crowded court dockets, and the like, do not enter into this decision. Without regard to the merits of the disposition of the criminal case, I believe that further consequences are necessary.
The punishment is yet another statement by Goodell that he will deal more harshly with players who misbehave off the field than his predecessors have. In 1999, Rams defensive end Leonard Little was suspended for eight games after he killed a woman while driving drunk.
Stallworth was sentenced to 30 days in jail after he pleaded guilty and was released from jail after serving 24 days of that sentence. He has also been given a lifetime suspension of his driver's license, two years' house arrest and eight years' probation. Stallworth also reached an undisclosed financial settlement with Reyes' family.