Those of you who have paid attention to my Twitter feed over the past year are well acquainted with my views on Michael Vick: he spent years as the architect, orchestrator, and Don of an empire of animal cruelty, animal murder, and illicit gambling. After a six-year career filled with inconsistency, poor attitude, and bad decisions, in my mind he’d lost his privilege to play professional football.
Imagine my surprise when, upon Vick’s release, I heard the phrase “Vick deserves a second chance” about four hundred and seventy-two million times in the span of a few weeks. On what planet?
Besides being a serial perpetrator of disgusting, torturous, brutal, soulless federal felonies, and patron of the attendant gambling rings, Vick flatly denied responsibility for his crimes, telling bald-faced lies to police and federal agents. In fact, he only admitted guilt when multiple co-conspirators flipped on him. As if his contempt for our justice system was in doubt, he made it plain by testing positive for marijuana while out on bond between his plea and sentencing.
Until he actually did time in Leavenworth, he never “got it”. Even then, his first attempt to satisfy his creditors through bankruptcy court was essentially “I get to keep everything, and once I get back in the NFL I’ll pay you all back”.
Meanwhile, Donte Stallworth, a wide receiver drafted in the first round by the Saints, recently of the Browns and currently a free agent, killed a man while driving drunk. While Vick served 19 months in federal prison, Stallworth served only 24 days in jail. The outcry over this disparity became the most tired ‘take’ since . . . well, since “Mike Vick deserves a second chance”.
It's true, Stallworth was driving after having had one or two too many. It’s also true that he hit someone with his Bentley, and that person died. However, surveillance video that captured the accident apparently showed the victim jaywalking directly into Stallworth’s path, and Stallworth’s car simply unable to avoid him.
Florida law states that in order to convict a person of DUI manslaughter, the prosecution has to prove that the alcohol was a factor—i.e., that the accident wouldn’t have happened if the accused was stone cold sober. However, the existence of the video tape prevented such a conviction; apparently the video makes it plain that there was little Stallworth could have done.
Moreover, everyone on-scene agrees that Stallworth stopped immediately after the accident, called 911, cooperated fully, accepted full responsibility, apologized to the family, and has since shown nothing but regret, remorse, and sorrow for what he did. He made a mistake; he is not a monster. THAT is a man who “deserves” a second chance.
Though I usually have a N.I.M.B.Y attitude towards players with attitude problems, and Stallworth’s career has so far not justified his first-round draft status, I feel a perverse sense of pride that it’ll be the Lions to give Stallworth his first crack at a second chance.
In pure football terms, the signing makes excellent sense. The Lions desperately need a field-stretcher to pair with Megatron; a second fiddle with deep speed. Of course, Stallworth has never possessed reliable hands, nor exceptional route-running ability—but they don’t need him to possess either of those traits.
All the Lions really need is a WR who presents a physical mismatch for a #2 corner, and Stallworth can fit that bill. He should come cheaply—and even if he can’t beat out Bryant Johnson for the #2 role, he’s an unquestionable talent upgrade over Dennis Northcutt, Derrick Williams, or any of 2009’s slot receivers.
As I write this, it's all still up in the air. The Lions could work Stallworth out tomorrow, he could cut a Chuck-Rogersesque 4.8, and this would all be moot. Or, he could blow them away, get signed on the spot, go on to humiliate the all the #2 corners playing man-to-man ten yards off of him, and become the Alvin Harper to Calvin Johnson’s Michael Irvin.
Either of those scenarios, or anything in between, are entirely feasible. All that’s left is to see today what Stallworth can make of his second chance. For a variety of reasons, I hope he makes the most of it.