Stallworth suspended for 2009

Updated: August 13, 2009, 9:31 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte' Stallworth has been suspended without pay for the 2009 season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy and its substance abuse policy, the league said Thursday.

Stallworth, 28, who pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter in Florida in connection with the March 14 crash in which he struck and killed construction worker Mario Reyes, will be reinstated after the Super Bowl in February 2010, the league said.

In a letter to Stallworth made public Thursday, commissioner Roger Goodell said, "I believe that further consequences are necessary" in addition to the punishment handed down by the legal system.

"There is no question that your actions had tragic consequences to an innocent man and his family, and that you have violated both the Substances of Abuse and Personal Conduct Policies," Goodell continued. "In that respect, you are clearly guilty of conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL.

"Your conduct endangered yourself and others, leading to the death of an innocent man. The NFL and NFL players must live with the stain that you have placed on their reputations."

In a statement released later Thursday, Stallworth said he accepted the commissioner's decision.

"Commissioner Goodell called me this morning. Obviously, I am disappointed, but, as I said previously, I accept the Commissioner's decision. Regardless of the length of my suspension, I will carry the burden of Mr. Reyes' death for the rest of my life.

Stallworth

Stallworth

"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."

Goodell suspended Stallworth indefinitely on June 18, two days after Stallworth pleaded guilty.

On March 14, after Stallworth spent the night drinking at a bar in Miami Beach's Fontainebleau hotel, police said he hit Reyes, a construction crane operator who was rushing to catch a bus after finishing his shift at about 7:15 a.m. ET.

Stallworth told police he flashed his lights in an attempt to warn Reyes, who was not in a crosswalk when he was struck.

Stallworth had a blood-alcohol level of .126 after the crash, well above Florida's .08 limit. Stallworth stopped after the crash and immediately told officers he had hit Reyes. Police estimated Stallworth was driving about 50 mph in a 40 mph zone.

Stallworth was given a 30-day jail sentence, of which he served 24 days, and reached an undisclosed financial settlement with Reyes' family. Besides jail time, Stallworth's sentence included two years of house arrest, eight years of probation and other restrictions.

Goodell said he didn't take into account the sentence in determining that 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 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, who met with Goodell a day after their first meeting, said afterward he would live with whatever punishment Goodell handed down.

In a statement he issued on Aug. 6, Stallworth said: "I recognize that there is a difference between the legal standard in my criminal case and the standard to which NFL players are held.

"It is clear that I exercised poor judgment and caused irreparable harm to Mario Reyes, his family, the NFL, its owners, coaches, employees and to my fellow players."

A college star at Tennessee, Stallworth also has played for the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints.

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," Mangini 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."

Stallworth signed a seven-year, $35 million contract with the Browns in 2008. He earned a $4.5 million roster bonus the night before the crash. He will lose the remaining $745,000 on his contract for 2009.

The Browns had hoped Stallworth could be a complementary No. 2 receiver and take pressure off Braylon Edwards.

But Stallworth hurt his leg in training camp, sidelining him for most of the season, and he never got going because of the injury. Meanwhile, Edwards spent the season dropping important passes, and Cleveland, considered a team with playoff potential when the 2008 season began, finished a disappointing 4-12.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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