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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Once again, a star athlete gets away with murder

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NFL receiver Donte' Stallworth, a former University of Tennessee star, began serving a jail sentence Tuesday for hitting and killing Miami resident Mario Reyes on March 14th while driving drunk. He had apparently spent the night celebrating a $4.5 million dollar roster bonus he received the day before at a luxury hotel bar.

His blood alcohol level at the time of the incident was a reported .126, well above Florida's legal limit of .08.

Mr. Stallworth not only chose to not check into a room to sleep it off, he proceeded to drive his vehicle while seriously impaired, at an estimated 50 mph in a 40 mph zone when he struck the 59-year-old father of one as he rushed to catch a bus after his shift for a construction company ended that fateful day.

As I watched the news account of the sentencing, my mind began racing with questions. Did he get a cell next to Michael Vick, the noted dog killer? Was he sentenced to multiple years in prison? Were there throngs of protesters lining the streets and sidewalks at his trial? Will he be vilified and his livelihood taken away?

The answer to all of the above is no. Stallworth pled guilty to DUI manslaughter and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. 30 DAYS! He will serve only 24 because he gets credit for one day served and will get five days credit for each month served, according to Florida law.

What a sad day for the American justice system.

The common perception is that celebrity athletes receive special treatment from the judicial system when they are charged with a crime.

That perception appears to have been given validity in this instance and is perpetuated in case after documented case involving sport stars with multi-million dollar contracts and an army of high-priced attorneys on speed dial to pursue every legal remedy that money can buy in their efforts to clean up after their pampered clients.

Stallworth joins Leonard Little, then of the Rams, and ironically enough, a Tennessee grad as well, as players who have killed while driving under the influence with minimal consequences for their actions.

In fact, Little was arrested again some years later for driving while impaired. It didn't stop him from signing a $19.5 million contract with the Rams in 2006.

Sadly, Stallworth and Little are just two examples of athletes who commit criminal acts without any meaningful punitive action being taken against them by a system that would throw away the proverbial key if you or I committed similar crimes.

In fact, one need look no further than the March 31 issue of the Times-Gazette, in which a drunk driver was sentenced to 10 years for vehicular homicide under circumstances similar to Stallworth's, to further illustrate the point.

Hall of Famers Bruce Smith and Carl Eller have been arrested multiple times for DUI, as have numerous other past and present stars, with negligible consequences.

It doesn't stop there.

Former Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis was indicted for murder following a Super Bowl party in 2000 when a fight broke out between him and rapper Chino Nino's entourage resulting in two people, Jacinth Baker 21, and Richard Lollar 24, being stabbed to death during the fracas.

The charge didn't stand when several witnesses who testified to Lewis' direct involvement initially recanted their stories as the trial was set to begin.

Lewis reached a settlement with 4-year-old India Lollar, born months after the death of her father Richard, preempting a scheduled civil proceeding in 2004.

Lewis also reached an undisclosed settlement with Baker's family the same year.

No one has ever been arrested for the murders to this day.

Professional athletes are bestowed special adulation and privileges due to our country's rabid fascination with them. That fame should not and must not be allowed to manifest itself into special consideration above and beyond what any other citizen would receive in the justice system.

Conversely, the punishment should fit the crime. It flies in the face of reason that Michael Vick would serve two-plus years in prison for killing dogs while taking a human life during the commission of a criminal act nets 30 days in a county jail.

Vick organized and financed an organized band of thugs whose sole purpose was cruelty to animals for his own brand of perverse amusement.

This is a man that apparently enjoyed watching mistreated animals maim and kill each other, and felt no remorse in sadistically murdering the poor animals when they did not perform. It was aberrant and inexcusable.

His actions were despicable and reprehensible, but he has paid the ultimate price with loss of freedom in a federal prison, salary and endorsement money and perhaps more detrimentally, has lost three prime years as an athlete that he can never get back.

Stallworth will be free to play this season pending review by the commissioner.

Has justice been served? Apparently, money talks and prosecution walks.

Stallworth's attorney, Christopher Lyons, said that a financial settlement with the victims' family was only one factor in the plea agreement.

He noted that Stallworth stopped immediately after the accident, called 911 and submitted to alcohol testing at the scene despite spending most of the night drinking.

"He acted like a man," Lyons said. "He stayed at the scene and cooperated fully with the police."

Too bad his version of being a man didn't include calling a taxi that night.

How ironic that what should have been the first day of a more fulfilling and enriched life for Donte' Stallworth turned out to be the last day on earth for Mario Reyes.

No matter how you look at it, there is no justice in that.

Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at jjones@t-g.com.

Jimmy Jones
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