The difference in the treatment of Michael Vick and Donté Stallworth by the media, teammates, the NFL, and the general public reveals a great deal about our culture. The picture painted is not a pretty one.
If you've never heard of Stallworth, don't be surprised. Unless you're a fan of the Cleveland Browns, or unless you closely follow the NFL, you probably have no idea who he is.
On March 14 in Miami, Stallworth, a 28-year-old wide receiver for the Browns, struck and killed 59-year-old Mario Reyes. According to his blood test, Stallworth's blood-alcohol level after the crash was .126, which was well above Florida's legal limit of .08.
This event received significant coverage by the sports media but scant coverage otherwise. On May 19, I did a Google search of "Danté Stallworth kills pedestrian" and got about 69,700 links ("Donté Stallworth kills man" yielded about half this result.). I then Googled "Michael Vick dog fighting" and I got about 688,000 links, nearly 10 times more than the Stallworth search.
Granted, such an activity is not a very scientific comparison. After all, Vick's story has been around much longer, but it is not a far cry to conclude that the coverage of Vick's incident far surpasses any reporting of Stallworth's incident.
Even when there were only suspicions about Vick's involvement in dog fighting, he was quickly ostracized and many people distanced themselves from him. About a week after Vick was officially charged on July 23, 2007, citing the league's conduct policy, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ordered Vick not to report to training camp until the NFL reviewed the dog fighting charges.
Protesters, especially those representing the radical animal rights group PETA, gathered at the Falcons' training facilities and outside the NFL's offices in New York. Falcons owner Arthur Blank called Vick's behavior "horrific."
Four days after he struck and killed a man, Stallworth reported to the Browns' voluntary offseason workouts. His attorney, Chris Lyons, said, "Donté reported to the Browns on Wednesday morning and he's been welcomed back by everyone — his teammates, the management, the coaching staff — and they've all been extremely supportive."
After Stallworth was charged with DUI manslaughter, according to ESPN, "NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league will review the case under its conduct and substance abuse policies."
Aiello stated, "As the state attorney has said, this was a tragic accident that raises serious issues and we join all those who have expressed their sympathies to the Reyes family."
No condemnation, no protests outside Browns facilities, and no mention of suspension from the NFL.
When searching for articles on Stallworth's story, you will often see the event described as a "tragedy," an "accident," or a "mistake." It is also easy to find sympathetic quotes from teammates. Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Mary Kay Cabot did a story in early April detailing the support from teammates that Stallworth was receiving. Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said, "people should know that Donté is a great person who made a terrible mistake, not a terrible person."
What Vick did was a "mistake." He deserved to be punished by both the criminal justice system and the NFL. However, what Stallworth did was "horrific." He took the life of another human being and now faces four to 15 years in prison if he is convicted.
As Vick approaches the end of his sentence, there is much discussion about his return to the NFL. Vick was suspended for the 2007 season and missed the 2008 season while in jail. It will be interesting to continue to follow and contrast these two stories.
If he is guilty, how will Stallworth's jail time compare to Vick's? What will be the reaction of the NFL, the media and the public to these ongoing sagas?
One thing is already clear: what a sad indictment on our culture that a man who mistreats (or even kills) animals has been so viciously condemned, while another man who may be guilty of manslaughter hardly draws the public's attention.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy here is the twisted set of morals that allows for such behavior.
Trevor Thomas is a Gainesville resident and frequent columnist. His columns appear regularly.