The Right Connections!

How much is a life worth? That might be the pertinent question with respect to the recent events connected to Donte Stallworth, a Cleveland Browns receiver in the National Football League. Stallworth, driving quite drunk, killed Mario Reyes, a pedestrian, last March in Florida and has been facing a possible 15-year prison term.

But not to worry, as it turns out Stallworth was punished by a paltry 30-day jail sentence, which he is now serving, presumably with great thanks to a Florida judge, who virtually took Stallworth’s admission of guilt as satisfying the DUI laws, although he required Stallworth to undergo “house arrest” for two years, which nevertheless would not have kept him from playing. One wonders how that works, since the Browns play all over the country, but that’s what Stallworth’s lawyer said, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader of 17 June.

So…about that worth of a life? Stallworth reached a “confidential settlement” with the victim’s family…cash settlement, that is, never mind that the family could have sued Stallworth any old time in civil court and just about named its price. Apparently, the judge thought such an out-of-court deal was good enough to nullify Florida DUI laws, although just any old drunk couldn’t have pulled this off. Stallworth’s salary last year was $5,155,000, so what’s a few million here or there when a long prison term must be bought-off at all costs?

Naw…Stallworth won’t play for a while…maybe. NFL Head Honcho Roger Goodell has suspended him indefinitely, though Mr. Goodell will contact Stallworth’s “representatives” before determining just how long that suspension will last. Michael Vick, former Atlanta quarterback, has just served serious time in the penitentiary or somewhere because he conducted dog-fights, a grisly inhumane operation but one that certainly did not involve murdered human beings, only dogs.

The difference? The whole nation exploded in an uproar over the dog-fights, but the death of a man just getting off from a night shift and crossing the street at the wrong time is hardly worth the print or a brief mention on TV. Vick may never play again, and it seems that he’s lost everything in the bargain. He was another multi-million-dollar guy (total salary of $8.4 million in 2006), worth much more than Stallworth, but killing dogs is (gasp) much worse than killing people.

Stallworth, on the other hand, will play again since…well…he was drunk and everyone knows that a crime committed under the influence – even murder – is not that bad. Doesn’t just everyone get a little too much once in a while? And…he did pay the family, didn’t he? So…what’s the big deal? A starting place might be in determining how much the deal was worth to the whole gaggle of people involved.

Obviously, the family was satisfied…no need for expensive lawyers with whom to split the loot, as well as months or years of trials and appeals, when all that loot could just be plopped in the bank, immediately. Eat your heart out, John Edwards! And what about the judge? Well…what about the judge? What might it have been worth, considering the deep, deep pockets of a receiver in the sacred NFL? And then the prosecutors! Don’t they do all the wheeling and dealing and plea-bargaining? Ah, those deep, deep pockets! Thirty days in exchange for 15 years ought to be worth something to any prosecutor worth his salt, even with a couple years of roaming-the-country house-arrest thrown in.

And what about Goodell, chief operator of the steroid-gang? Why does he need to speak with Stallworth’s representatives in order to set the suspension-term? Can’t he decide for himself…or…what might it be worth to come up with something like sitting out the first six games in 2009? After all, Stallworth’s mouthpiece said house-arrest means nothing, unless, of course, Stallworth could somehow enter the game through his TV?

Flash back to November 1998. Jason Watts was the starting center for the University of Kentucky. He owned a pickup, so he and two of his buddies – all three drunk – spent an evening in a bar in Lexington, then set out down U.S #27 for south Kentucky in the pickup. In his drunken stupor after about 70 miles or so, Watts managed a horrific one-vehicle wreck in which both his passengers were killed, while he suffered an injured arm that was patched-up post-haste.

Watts pleaded guilty, of course, to two counts of reckless homicide (euphemism for “murder while drunk”) but was released on shock probation after serving four months of a 10-year sentence. By the next tryout season for the NFL, he was busy attempting to catch-on with some team, while his buddies lay “mouldering in their graves.” Watts was not wealthy, BUT could he become wealthy if he caught on? He was signed by the Denver Broncos soon after his release from jail. What was in the mind of the circuit judge who set him free?

If the ordinary John Doe had done what either Stallworth or Watts did, he would have been trucked off to the Big House to serve some serious time, as he should have been. But in this sorry state of affairs with both sports and the courts, if he happened to have a boatload of money or the potential for same, perhaps he could look at a few days of inconvenience, a few years of meaningless probation, and – VOILA! – happiness ever after!

Eat your heart out, Michael Vick! You killed dogs and paid dearly for it. You should have operated football-player-fights instead of dog-fights, and you’d still be raking it in, with a few carcasses here and there…but, hey, who’s counting?