Roger Goodell's Opportunity To Send a Message to NFL Players

Daniel ShanksAnalyst IJune 19, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  (L-R) NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger III stand on the field prior to Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

In his brief tenure as NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell has proven he means business when it comes to disciplining NFL players.

No matter how big or small the infraction may be, players who step out of line can expect that Goddell will bring the hammer down on them.

Now, as he approaches the third anniversary of his role as commish, Roger Goodell is faced with his toughest test to date.

Of course, I am referring to the situation surrounding Donte Stallworth and his recent plea agreement.

Many NFL fans were outraged that Stallworth and his legal team managed to turn a DUI manslaughter charge into a 30-day prison sentence.

Part of his punishment included a settlement with the family of the victim for an undisclosed sum.

Still, no amount of money or jail time can undo the damage done by Stallworth and his foolish decision to get behind the wheel of his car after having too much to drink.

For the time being, he did the best (and smartest) thing he could do, which is suspend Stallworth indefinitely. The indefinite suspension delays any potential outcry that Goodell's decision will certainly draw.

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But Goodell is now in what many people believe is a no-win situation.

If he suspends Stallworth for anything less than a year, people will decry the commissioner for being too lenient. The backlash would be considerable.

If he decides to shelve Stallworth for more than a season, people will portray him as a heartless dictator who is out of touch with reality.

In fact, someone on B/R already penned an article saying that he's tired of Goodell "playing judge."

While most view this scenario as a lose-lose situation, I see it as something else.

I believe Goodell has been given a golden opportunity, a chance to send a strong message that can not be misinterpreted.

I think he should ban Stallworth for life.

I am of the opinion that even if the receiver put the victim's family in a position where they're set for life, 30 days in jail doesn't even come close to Stallworth's rightful debt to society.

Many legal experts have said that a normal person in Stallworth's shoes would have received about 10 years in prison.

If money and fame didn't ensure a favorable outcome in the legal system, Stallworth would be cooling his heels for quite some time, perhaps as many as seven of those 10 years, if he was a model athlete.

By the time he was released from prison, Stallworth would be 35 years old. At that age, and having missed seven years in his prime, there would be no way he could return to the NFL.

Essentially, if the legal system wasn't an unadulterated joke, Stallworth would have received a sentence equivalent to a lifelong suspension.

If the courts won't step up and do the right thing, Goodell should.

Stallworth doesn't seem like a bad guy. It was a terrible mistake, but there was no intent to kill anyone when he started his car.

But Stallworth typifies a sense of entitlement that most professional athletes share.

Because they have great wealth, because they are in the limelight, they think society's laws don't apply to them.

And so often, they are proven right.

Stallworth will serve a month in prison for taking someone's life.

Leonard Little served even less for a similar crime. And he was pulled over for DUI years later. Obviously he didn't get the message.

And why would he? Little got off basically scot-free. He was suspended from the NFL, but went on to enjoy a lengthy NFL career.

By suspending Stallworth for life, Goodell would let it be known that even if players escape severe punishment from the law, they will not be immune to a stiff punishment from the NFL.

Obviously, this is nothing more than a pipe dream. But do you think we would see the same police blotter headlines over and over if Goodell took a decisive stand in the Stallworth case?

Maybe, just maybe, spoiled athletes would finally understand that playing professional sports is a privilege, not a right.

Maybe, just maybe, with the threat of losing their livelihood, they would learn a lesson in accountability.

It could all come to fruition with one definitive decision.