- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

Donte Stallworth reacted a lot wiser than Michael Vick in the aftermath of the crime and saved himself a considerable amount of jail time and money.

That is one of the lessons to be gleaned from the fallout involving Stallworth and Vick. It is not the crime. It is the cover-up.

Here is how the inebriated Stallworth played it after he hopped into his black Bentley and plowed into Mario Reyes on March 14 in Miami Beach:

Stallworth did not leave the scene of the crime. Instead, he stopped his automobile after it struck Reyes, called 911 and submitted to a roadside sobriety test.

Stallworth then hired a team of smooth-talking lawyers, bought the silence of the victim’s family with an undisclosed settlement and expressed the appropriate amount of remorse.

Stallworth did not try to lie his way out of it, as Vick did. He did not try to shift responsibility or explain away his actions in some obtuse way. He was legally intoxicated at the time of the mishap, and it hardly mattered that Reyes was in a hurry to catch a bus and should not have been on the roadway.

A judge this week evaluated the details of the case after the Browns wide receiver pleaded guilty to second-degree DUI manslaughter and sentenced him to 30 days in jail.

Of course, there has been no outcry with Stallworth. Animal-rights activists have no interest in holding protests. Members of the national press have not covered the case in brain-numbing detail. Television camera crews have not filmed Stallworth’s every move in public.

It has been treated almost as a dog-bites-man news story, which is understandable. After all, NFL players do have a history of hurting those who have the misfortune of being in their vicinity at the wrong time, whether it is a strip club, nightclub, roadway or living space.

Yet there is something unsettling about a society that, in effect, places more value on an animal’s life than a human one. And that, too, is one of the conclusions to be drawn from Stallworth and Vick.

This is not to overlook the nuances of each case. Stallworth got behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, dumbly thinking that nothing could happen because what were the chances? His was a horrible accident, a regrettable moment.

Vick ran a criminal enterprise. He had plenty of time to rethink what he was doing and leave the dogfighting business before the Feds caught up to him. But he didn’t. And when it all started to collapse around him, he chose to lie.

So Vick spent 23 months in prison, became the pariah whom everyone loves to dissect, lost his vast fortune and two seasons in the NFL and is awaiting his dreaded appointment with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Stallworth received a whopping 30 days of jail time after killing a man. He also received the lifetime suspension of his driver’s license, two years of house arrest, eight years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service. Not a bad deal for someone facing as many as 15 years in prison.

It could be argued the worst part of his punishment is the indefinite suspension he received from Goodell on Thursday. That could turn out to be eight games or more, if recent history is the barometer.

Rams defensive end Leonard Little received an eight-game suspension for the 1999 season after he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in a drunken-driving accident that resulted in the death of a woman.

Goodell could be motivated to adopt a harder line with Stallworth as part of his overall effort to stem the seemingly never-ending series of incidents that afflict the NFL.

But an indefinite suspension does not address Stallworth’s judicial slap on the wrist and a society’s mixed-up sense of priorities.

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