Athlete DUIs deserve harsher punishments

This is not a post about just Jason Richardson.

This is a post about Charles Barkley, Carmelo Anthony, Hassan Adams and most certainly Donte Stallworth.

And although this post will focus on athletes in particular, this post is about anyone who has ever gotten behind the wheel after having a few too many.

According to, 135 million Americans drink, 21 million Americans drink and drive at least once per year, 1.5 million are arrested for DUI every year, and 18,000 people die in alcohol/traffic-related deaths every year. You can practically fill US Airways Center with the number of people who die because of a drunk driver every year.

Thank God, this was not the result in Richardson’s case. But because he was cited for driving with a BAC above the legal limit of .08 along with failing to stay in one lane, he greatly increased the chances of this being the result of his early morning jaunt.

Donte Stallworth wasn’t so lucky. Stallworth, an NFL receiver, killed a man while driving with a BAC of .126, which is well above the legal limit.

It actually happened, the worst-case scenario when someone gets behind the wheel drunk.

Even then, Stallworth only only sentenced to a month in jail, two years under house arrest and eight years of probation after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter. Thankfully, the NFL suspended him for the entire 2009 season, but even with that I feel like he’s getting off easy.

The thing is I don’t think people in general and professional athletes in particular take drunk driving seriously enough. I mean, one of my best friends in college owned a Breathalyzer not so he could be sure never to drive drunk but so he would know how drunk he was if a cop ever pulled him over.

A guy like Richardson has enough millions to hire anybody to drive him wherever he needs to go, and considering the speeding with a child unrestrained in the back incident, that might not be a bad idea for J-Rich.

The case of former UA guard Hassan Adams was most ridiculous because he was cited for driving under the influence when he had a sober passenger in the car.

Adams ended up getting the most minor slap on the wrist by being suspended for the Pac-10 tourney despite being cited for a BAC in the .12 range, which means he missed just one game when Arizona lost in the first round; he was back in time to lead the Wildcats to a first-round victory in the NCAA Tournament. Beyond the fact that Hassan hasn’t been relevant since, that’s a joke of a penalty for such a potentially serious crime.

And that brings us to the J-Rich punishment. We’re all lucky this was only two games because if something horrible had happened it wouldn’t be two games.

It would likely be 82 games if the Stallworth judgment is any precedent.

Sure, J-Rich will be missing out on $242,424 due to the suspension, but I doubt he’ll feel it because of the other $13 million he’ll be making this season. It’s not going to make a dent on his bottom line the way legal fees and fines alone do for the average person getting a DUI.

Also, pro athletes should be held to a higher standard than your average Chick-Fil-A server who pleads guilty to DUI because they are role models, no matter what Barkley thinks. When an 18-year-old Suns fan sees a guy like J-Rich get a DUI with a (comparatively) light fine, jail sentence  and suspension, it doesn’t send a serious enough message.

Driving drunk is an epidemic in this country. It kills.

This isn’t to say I think J-Rich should be traded because of his mistake (although he’s lucky Jerry Colangelo doesn’t run this show anymore). He deserves a second chance.

But the next time an athlete (or anybody really) thinks about getting in a car after chugging a few too many, they should think of this:

Donte Stallworth.

Tags: Jason Richardson

  • I agree

    Even though the title is “Athlete DUIs deserve harsher punishments” it looks like you’re advocating tougher punishments for people with DUIs in general which I agree. You have a lot of people who drive drunk and think it’s funny or like to brag about it. Saying “oh man I drove home so wasted last night”, etc. Killing someone under the influence should almost be considered premeditated murder seeing how the person decided to drink then get behind a wheel knowing that someone could die. I think most people take it pretty lightly since most of the time people end up not dying, which is a shame.

  • BigWay

    Maybe you should mention this to the voters of Massachusetts.

    Talk about getting off lightly, they repeatedly reelected Ted Kennedy over a 40 year period to serve in the nations highest governing body after he committed one of the great acts of moral cowardice in human history(leaving Mary Jo to drown, while he hid at mommy’s house) while driving drunk.

    I always wondered why they don’t have a chapter of MADD in Mass. Explain that beautiful example of liberal hypocrasy.

  • Carly McElroy

    I absolutely agree! It's always such a disappointment to see these professional athletes making such a foolish and often fatal error. The fact that they typically return to the game after a public apology and barely a one game suspension seems absurd. It's like you said, these are not your run-of-the-mill people making a bad decision. Part of the reason that these athletes make such large sums of money is because of their public profile, and I think part of their salary means being a role model. There needs to be harsher punishments that fit the crimes, especially for athletes that carry such huge significance.

  • Aubri Haley

    While I agree to a point, all DUI’s need to be taken seriously, I disagree that athletes be held to some “super hero” role model law. Yes, they are role models, and as such, children should see exactly what happens when a “role model” breaks a law. Nothing more, nothing less.
    But having said that, looking at the true statistics does shed an interesting “hue” if you will.
    As we all know, the NFL has 32 teams, with 52 players and various others on injury/or reserved status, plus a practice squad. Counting only the 52 players that gives 1,662 men (hang with me). Moving to the MBA, 30 teams, (you get the rooster idea) total for the league, 450. Now the MLB, We won’t even touch farm league- GOOD LORD! sticking to just the 15 teams and their average roster- figure 600. Now NHL, Yikes! with 30 teams in the league, their actually easy- there is 2121 active players taking the ice (currently). So what does this mean? There are 4,833 ACTIVE players (not counting all those “feeder” players in all the various sports that have MANY opportunities to make bad decisions. And yes, the moment they make them it’s front page news. But let’s dig a tiny bit deeper- remember college? WHOA! With 120 colleges playing football in Division I-A every week. We don’t even want to add up the numbers of “kids” there that can “drink it up), but since MOST teams have 125 players on their roster, you can figure adding 15,000 to the mix! So what does that all mean? “According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 32,367 people died in traffic crashes in 2011 in the United States (latest figures available), including an estimated 9,878 people who were killed in drunk driving crashes involving a driver with an illegal BAC (.08 or greater). Among the people killed in these drunk driving crashes, 66% were drivers (6,507), 27% were motor vehicle occupants (2,661), and 7% were non-occupants (710), with an average of one person dying in a drunk driving fatality every 53 minutes. ” (Century Council, 2012). While 6 MLB players were arrested in 2011, “guilt” has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. You often find more drug and deeper charges on pro-athletes, tax fraud and manslaughter to name a couple.
    So yes, drunk driving will remain an issue. The bigger picture is that for pro-athletes its one that seems under control for many, considering the very few that get “caught up” in the web.
    … by the numbers….