NFL suspends Browns' Stallworth without pay for 2009 season
NEW YORK (AP) -- Cleveland Browns receiver Donte' Stallworth was suspended without pay for this season Thursday after pleading guilty to killing a pedestrian while driving drunk. He cannot participate in any team activities until his reinstatement after the Super Bowl.
"Your conduct endangered yourself and others, leading to the death of an innocent man," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Stallworth released by the league. "The NFL and NFL players must live with the stain that you have placed on their reputations."
Stallworth struck 59-year-old Mario Reyes on March 14 in Miami. He pleaded guilty June 16 to DUI manslaughter, a second-degree felony, and was suspended indefinitely by Goodell two days later.
"Regardless of the length of my suspension, I will carry the burden of Mr. Reyes' death for the rest of my life," Stallworth said in a statement. "I urge NFL fans not to judge NFL players or me based on my tragic lapse in judgment. I am a good person who did a bad thing. I will use the period of my suspension to reflect, fulfill my obligations, and use this experience to make a positive impact on the lives of those who look up to NFL players."
Stallworth drew a 30-day jail sentence and reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the family of Reyes, who was leaving his crane operator job when he was struck.
Goodell said he didn't take into account the sentence in determining Stallworth violated the league's substance abuse and personal conduct policies.
Goodell held a hearing with Stallworth, his representatives and union officials Aug. 5. He also met privately with Stallworth on Monday at the 28-year-old player's request.
"As you recognized both at and following the hearing, guilt or innocence as a matter of criminal law is not the same as a violation of NFL policies," Goodell wrote.
Stallworth signed a seven-year, $35 million contract in 2008. He earned a $4.5 million roster-signing bonus the night before the crash. He will lose the remaining $745,000 on his contract for 2009.
Browns coach Eric Mangini wouldn't say whether he was open to bringing Stallworth back next season.
"In terms of that, in terms of what the future holds, there's really no decision that's been made, there's no timetable that's been set," he said. "The focus is on what we have to do here, the players that are here and that's really the direction we're headed."
This was Goodell's second high-profile disciplinary decision in the last three weeks. On July 27, he conditionally reinstated Michael Vick after the quarterback served 18 months in prison for running a dogfighting ring.
Police said Stallworth had spent the night drinking at a Miami Beach club and had a blood-alcohol level of .126, above Florida's .08 legal limit. Besides jail time, his sentence included two years of house arrest, eight years of probation and other restrictions.
Prosecutors have said surveillance video showed Reyes running across MacArthur Causeway and being hit by Stallworth's 2005 Bentley. On a recorded 911 call, Stallworth said that Reyes "came out of nowhere." A police report said Reyes was rushing to catch a bus home.
A college star at Tennessee, Stallworth has also played for the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. His first year with Cleveland was marred by injuries. He hurt his leg in training camp, sidelining him for most of the season.
When the Browns signed Stallworth in 2008 they hoped he could be a complementary No. 2 receiver and take pressure off Braylon Edwards. But Stallworth never got going because of the injury and made only seven starts. Edwards spent the season dropping important passes and Cleveland finished 4-12.
"I can say that I respect the commissioner very much and I respect the process and I respect the decision," Mangini said. "Our focus, mine and the team's focus, is on the task at hand and getting ready for the season."