Donte Stallworth: Rookies, learn from my mistakes


It wasn’t the first time he drank and drove. Donte Stallworth admits that now.

Stallworth, one of the Eagles’ leading wide receivers during their 2006 playoff run, made headlines for the wrong reasons three years later when he killed a pedestrian while driving his Bentley Continental GT near Miami Beach.

Stallworth’s blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit, and he was charged with DUI manslaughter. After agreeing to a plea bargain, he served 24 days of a 30-day sentence. He was also sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service and eight years of probation and agreed to a settlement with the victim’s family to avoid a civil suit.

“It wasn’t a one-time thing,” Stallworth wrote recently in a blog post.

“Like many of my other teammates in college and in the pros, I had driven under the influence a number of times.”

Stallworth was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2009 season but returned to play three more seasons before retiring after 2012.

These days, Stallworth devotes much of his time to trying to teach young athletes not to make the same mistakes he made.

Recently, Stallworth spoke at the NFL’s rookie symposium in Aurora, Ohio, and shared his story with hundreds of NFL rookies.

“The message is that you’re playing Russian roulette when you’re doing that … you’re playing Russian roulette with your own life, with the lives of others and with your career,” he wrote in his blog. “All of it can be over from one terrible decision. And it’s 100 percent preventable.”

Stallworth’s incident in Florida in 2009 was unusual in that the pedestrian was crossing in the middle of a dark, busy road where there wasn’t a crosswalk.

Stallworth’s lawyers urged him to fight the charges, but he elected to accept a plea deal that left him a convicted felon because he felt it was the morally correct thing to do.

Stallworth, one of the most intelligent, insightful players to come through the Eagles’ locker room in the last quarter century, works these days for the Huffington Post, writing eloquently and passionately about Washington, D.C., politics.

He shares his personal experiences with the same amount of eloquence and passion.

“The No. 1 message that I try to relay to these rookies at the NFL symposium is that every choice you make has a consequence, whether it’s positive or negative, good or bad,” he said.

“Every decision you make will have a subsequent effect, so if you make a bad decision, then that’s inevitably going to turn into something that you won’t be able to take back.

“So how do you prevent getting to that point? Well, you have to make better decisions prior to going out to dinner or to a club. If you are going somewhere, and you know alcohol is going to be involved and there’s a 1 percent chance that you’re going to have an alcoholic drink, plan ahead.

“Get a car service or an Uber, get a designated driver who’s not drinking at all. There are so many different options that you have today so that you do not put yourself in that predicament.

“Once you go out and you’re driving, you’ve already made the decision to drive. And maybe you end up going to dinner and having a glass of wine that turns into another glass, or you have a cocktail that turns into two, three, four, whatever the case may be. At that point, you’ve already made the decision to drive. So you’ve already put yourself in a bad predicament from the beginning.

“I try to stress the importance of making those good decisions ahead of time,” Stallworth wrote. “I think a lot of guys get in trouble when they think they’re OK to drive because they’re a few minutes away from home. And so was I. I was three minutes away from home.

“It’s all about decision-making and planning ahead of time. I don’t try to scare them, but I do try to give them a dose of reality. And I stand in front of them and show them pictures of when I was in court, pictures of when I was being fingerprinted, in handcuffs.

“I try to give them a visual that says if you make the decision that I did — and it only takes one time — this could be your future. You have so much to lose, and it’s so simple and 100 percent preventable.”

Stallworth, the 13th player taken in the 2002 draft, caught 321 passes for 4,837 yards and 35 touchdowns in 10 seasons with the Saints, Eagles, Patriots, Browns, Ravens and Redskins.

He was 38 for 725 with five touchdowns in 2006 with the Eagles and also caught six passes for 141 yards in two playoff games, including a then-franchise record 75-yard TD from Jeff Garcia against the Saints in the conference semifinal round at the Superdome.

Stallworth, now 34, was one of several former and current NFL players who addressed the NFL rookies during the rookie symposium.

Former Eagles Terrell Owens and Michael Vick also spoke.

“My hope is that I’m making a positive impact on these rookies,” Stallworth wrote. “It’s never easy for me to stand in front of these guys. It always evokes the feelings that I had when it happened more than six years ago. But these guys are somewhat my peers. I’ve been in their shoes and I’ve been where they’re sitting. And I look at them like they’re brothers.

“It doesn’t matter if you played 10 years ago or two years ago, everyone in the NFL is part of a brotherhood. Some of these guys know who I am, some of them don’t know who I am (and/or my story), so I just want to get up there and tell them my story exactly how it happened.

“I don’t want any of these rookies to make the decision that I did the morning of March 14, 2009. And whatever I can do to help them understand how big of a mistake it is … then that’s what I’ll do.”

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