If nothing else, the ongoing Donte’ Stallworth case serves as another disturbing reminder of how far the sports media has fallen. To summarize, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver was out drinking at a Miami club in the wee hours of March 14th. On his way home, Stallworth struck and killed a construction worker that had just gotten off work. In my opinion, the victim’s failure to cross the street in a crosswalk was canceled out by Stallworth’s blood alcohol content: .126.
I want to be clear about how horrifying it is to drive drunk. It is a disgusting, reckless, and selfish act that has no business occurring anywhere, particularly in a society that is well aware of its dangers. It was reprehensible with Joba Chamberlain did it, when JJ Redick did it, when Deltha O’Neal did it, and when Tommy Kelly did it. All of these athletes made the decision to drive drunk, and, unlike Stallworth, they somehow managed to avoid killing someone. But in all of their cases, they put the lives of others at risk because they were too lazy or dim-witted to call a cab.
Somehow, both this general problem and specific case have induced almost zero outrage amongst the people paid to cover sports. Reporters and columnists can try to justify it by claiming their job is to cover the events and feats occurring solely in the athletes’ professional realm. But that hasn’t stopped them from excoriating Josh Howard for disrespecting the national anthem in a YouTube video, or lambasting Alex Rodriguez for participating in unusual photo shoots. Such incidents clearly took place outside the confines of a basketball court, baseball diamond, or football field, yet the sports media saw no problem with sinking their teeth into those stories.
I repeat: Donte Stallworth killed someone. He did so because he drove drunk, an act that occurs with much more regularity and consequence than taking steroids. An oft-cited explanation for Major League Baseball and the federal government’s “war on steroids” is ensuring the safety of America’s youth. Well, I’d hate to break it to the congressional grandstanders, MLB owners, and baseball reporters that all stand to gain from such a crusade, but it turns out that drunk driving poses a far more serious threat to people of all ages, areas, and creeds. It has for some time now.
Ultimately, I find it both sickening and heartbreaking that journalists have opted to use their considerable power to write frenzied and unhelpful columns like this, instead of using their time more responsibly. Like any journalist covering any subject, sports reporters have an obligation to write cogently about the events, trends, and participants in the world of professional and amateur athletics. Part of this duty, I think, is bringing perspective and insight to the sports landscape. They have to make honest attempts to make sense of it all, to point out inconsistencies and oddities, to question and probe, and to demand serious thought of their readers just as they should of themselves. Then a prominent baseball player uses steroids – hurting no one but himself, if that – and legions of sportswriters and fans are ready to declare the end of integrity as we know it, sounding the death knell for professional sports and perhaps civilized society itself. Yet when another athlete drives drunk and kills a man, we are given nothing but AP reports and a half-hearted admission of its tragedy. Invariably, we are then shuffled off to Barry Bonds and his latest attempts to kick small children and defenestrate old women.
Sometimes I wonder if the death knell isn’t meant for contemporary sportswriting instead.