Stallworth is earning his second chance

April 02, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

Donte' Stallworth said all the right things.

You want to know whether he sounded contrite about the terrible accident last year that killed a Miami construction worker? To me, he did. But it's hard to look into a man's soul, isn't it? Did Tiger Woods sound contrite? Who can make that kind of judgment?

You want to know whether Stallworth seems committed to making the most of this second chance the Ravens are giving him? Well, he's at The Castle for all the workouts. He's catching passes from Joe Flacco. He's getting his ride situation squared away, because he isn't permitted to drive and needs a lift back and forth.

You want to know whether he can be the play-making wide receiver the Ravens need? He says he just wants to fit in with Derrick Mason and new wide-out Anquan Boldin, and that his role will be defined once we get closer to the season.

"I still have a little bit of speed left in me," he said. "Whatever they want me to do down the field, I will."

So that's some of what we learned about Stallworth on Thursday in his first meeting with the media since signing a one-year, $900,000 deal with the Ravens in February. He came across as poised, earnest and even charming, the exact opposite of the NFL knucklehead you might have envisioned.

I'll tell you this: The Ravens made a big mistake in not letting this guy talk as soon as they signed him - that's how well he comes across.

Here's the back story on that: It turns out Stallworth wanted to address the media right away.

But Ozzie Newsome shot that one down.

The GM and executive vice president wanted Stallworth to spend time with his new coaches and teammates, so they could get to know him right away and he could bond with them.

"Ozzie didn't want players to be walking the halls and see Donte' and say, 'Oh, there's the guy who was in the accident,' " Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' media guru, said.

Fine, I get the thinking behind the move. But it was still a mistake.

All the Ravens had to do was put this guy in front of a microphone for 20 minutes back then and it would have answered a lot of the questions Ravens Nation had about what kind of player the team was getting.

"The accident" or "the incident" - that's how everyone referred to it Thursday. You wonder whether Stallworth will ever be able to put it behind him.

It happened in March 2009, when he drove while intoxicated and struck and killed a pedestrian named Mario Reyes in Miami. This was in the early morning, one day after Stallworth had cashed a $4.5 million bonus from the Cleveland Browns.

He pleaded guilty to DUI vehicular manslaughter; served 24 days in jail; was sentenced to two years of home detention, eight years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service; and lost his driving privileges for five years.

He reached a financial settlement with the Reyes family that's still hush-hush.

And he was kicked out of the NFL, suspended indefinitely without pay until that was lifted and he signed with the Ravens.

But again: How do you ever forget that you climbed behind the wheel drunk and killed someone?

"Now that I'm back playing, it's not in the back of my mind," he said Thursday. "It's something I deal with every day, waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night."

If you believe, as most sentient people do, that everyone deserves a second chance, then maybe Stallworth has landed in the best possible place he could have landed.

He ends up in a first-class organization with an owner in Steve Bisciotti and GM in Newsome and a coach in John Harbaugh who profess to believe in second chances - as long as you're not a serial screw-up.

And he ends up surrounded by veteran teammates such as Ray Lewis, Mason and Ed Reed, who have come back from their own trials and tribulations and would be willing to provide counsel.

One thing's for sure: Stallworth seems eager for people in Baltimore to get to know him for something other than that terrible morning in South Florida.

"One incident doesn't define a person at all," he said. "It was a situation where I could have used better judgment, but I didn't. Once people get to know me, they'll know I'm not that kind of person."

"If I could go back and take that night over, I would," he said.

It's too late for that, of course. He made a tragic mistake that stays with him forever.

But it's not too late for Stallworth to make a new life for himself with the Ravens.

So far, he seems off to a good start.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 Sports.

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