Sheriff Goodell Strikes Again

This time he has decided to wield his vast powers and suspend Cleveland Browns wide receiver Dontae Stallworth for the entire 2009 season following a DUI that led to the death of a pedestrian this past spring.  I cannot convey how much I disagree with this decision.  To me, it is not up to the NFL to punish Stallworth.  We have a legal system for that.  Many people thought that the court’s sanction of 30 days in jail was far too light for the vehicular homicide charge, and I won’t disagree with them on that.  But, its for the courts to decide.  If you don’t like the length of that sentence, complain about that judge and complain to the government of Florida that wrote the statutes the judge was following.  But the courts have spoken, Stallworth has served his time, and I think he should have the right to resume gainful employment.

Of course this decision will be popular with the media and with the callers on sports talk shows, with the possible exception of in Cleveland, whose team has been harmed by this fiat, for the same reason that “law and order” politicians tend to score well with voters.  Its easy to say “throw the book at him” and etc.  But I just don’t feel it should be a league matter when it was not a league rule that was violated.  Yes, contracts have moral turpitude clauses.  If the Browns wanted to use that and fire him, and if no other team wanted him (like no one seems to want Michael Vick on their roster) that would be fine.  But I think the only time a league as a whole should be setting suspensions and other sanctions is when league rules are broken, when a player flunks a steroid test or instigates a fight during a game or strikes an official or etc.

I also don’t like the draconian length of the suspension because I don’t like the message it sends.  After the incident, Stallworth acted precisely how everyone would say you should act.  He owned up to it.  He remained at the scene.  When the test results came back that he was over the limit on alcohol and had marijuana in his system, he pled to the corresponding charges rather than try to drag out a lengthy court process (like Plaxico Burress who the authorities also have dead to rights on this offenses).  He quickly reached a civil settlement with the victim’s family.  He has shown remorse in his public comments since the incident.  Also, though it does have a much smaller degree of importance, but the accident wasn’t just his fault.  The victim ran out in front of him and the accident may’ve happened even if Stallworth were sober.  That doesn’t matter in a legal sense, but to me that makes his offense smaller than if he had crossed the center line and plowed into a car going the other way.  I don’t know maybe the judge considered that.  But by suspending Stallworth a full season and not just a handful of games, Goodell sends the signal that none of that matters, there is no reason to do the right things, you’re going to get the book thrown at you either way.  So you might as well go ahead and act childish about it and try to deny and obfuscate and see if that gets you anywhere.  Obviously the best thing for Stallworth to’ve done was to not drink and get behind the wheel.  But I think he has acted in an exemplary fashion after the fact and deserved a better fate than this from the NFL.

***UPDATE***  Scratch the comment on Michael Vick not getting a job, as the Philadelphia Eagles have given him a 2 year contract.  Its an interesting situation given they have Donovan F. McNabb under contract and also given that they are paying him a lot more than the league minimum.  Also upon further thought, the Goodell probably did have to give Stallworth a 4 game suspension because the marijuana usage constituted a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.  I still don’t like the 1 year suspension one iota, however.

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