Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Donte Stallworth's NFL Suspension

The NFL missed a golden opportunity to send their players, coaches, executives and, yes, fans a message with the suspension of Donte Stallworth following his conviction in a DUI manslaughter case. They had an opportunity to clearly and definitively address a league epidemic, but chose instead to hand down a rather toothless "indefinite suspension".

First off, I just want to say that I really can't and don't want to comment on punishment Stallworth received from the state of Florida. I'm not well versed in Florida law, nor do I know what a typical punishment is in a case like this, so I'm just going to assume Stallworth received the standard punishment for being drunk and ending a human life by barrelling into him with a Bentley. Sure 30 days in jail seems a little light, but, like I said, I don't know Florida law.

Instead, my focus is going to be on the NFL suspension Stallworth received and what the league should have done. Like I said previously, Stallworth received an indefinite suspension from the NFL, which I read as "you can return to the league whenever you get the blessing of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell". While this punishment is effective and necessary for "once-in-a-lifetime" cases such as Michael Vick's, the league could have used the notoriety of the Stallworth cases to address one of its ugliest and most ingrained problems.

The NFL has a huge problem with drinking and driving. HUGE. Yahoo! Sports writer Josh Peters wrote an incredible article addressing it here. The one number that leaps off the screen is that 73 players on 2008 rosters had been arrested for DUI. Let's put that in context, that is basically about 5% of the players in the entire NFL. That's an epidemic and an embarrassment.

So how could the Stallworth issue be used to address the NFL's problem with DUIs? First, Goodell should have used the media focus to make a new NFL mandate. My suggestion would be that Stallworth is receiving a two year suspension from the NFL. I would then use the Stallworth forum to announce that from this day forward any and all DUIs convictions will be at least an automatic one-year suspension. Further more, a DUI arrest (regardless of whether or not the player is convicted) is an automatic four game suspension, because after all, isn't the suspicion of putting your life and the lives of your fellow human beings at risk worth at least the same penalty as using steriods.

Since the average NFL career is about three years, a one-year automatic suspension for a DUI would be a huge blow to an average player. So much so, that (hopefully) any player would think twice before risking his +$300,000 salary for a night on the town. It would also create the illusion that the league actually cares about responsible behavior from its players, something I'm struggling to believe at the present. Finally, it would send a strong message to NFL fans, may of who are children: Drinking and driving is a serious crime, wildly irresponsible and dangerous and will/should be punished as so.

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