Not privy to many details of the case, the public was largely outraged when Stallworth reached a plea deal with the prosecutor and received a 30-day jail sentence. He would later be suspended by the NFL for the entire 2009-2010 season. The plea deal he reached also called for a lifetime suspension of his driver’s license and two years of “community control,” which limited his ability to leave home for anything else besides work, legal, medical or other essential activities the court deemed necessary.
Banned from football and isolated from the world that helped, in part, to shape his identity, Twitter quickly became a welcome escape. It allowed him to share his eclectic reading interests and conspiracy theories with thousands of fans – a treat usually reserved for his teammates or closest friends. In between 140 character conversations about 9-11, biological warfare, the Military Industrial Complex, or more typical football banter, Stallworth was often inundated with tweets from strangers calling him a “murderer” or expressing similar pleasantries. Most were incensed with the amount of time he spent in jail, commonly comparing his sentence to Plaxico Burress’ or Michael Vick’s. It was constant. It was relentless. Many of his friends, including myself, would sometimes question why he even remained on Twitter. Other times, we would end up getting into heated exchanges ourselves with the thumb thugs in Donté’s mentions. Amazingly, while sometimes it got the best of him, Donté appeared to be the least affected. He had remarkable perspective for someone under the constant fire of anonymous critics.
Four years later, the frequency of angry, hateful tweets had slowed down, but they didn’t entirely disappear. Not unlike the awkward way game analysts on television always manage to work in details about his DUI manslaughter case each time Donté appears on screen, much of the public also seems unable to separate Donté Stallworth from that one horrible, life-altering incident.
Within twenty-four hours of the balloon accident, while bored, still in pain and looking for a distraction, Donté opened up the Twitter app on his iPhone. He was overwhelmed by the outpouring of kind words and support from friends and strangers. However, inserted among the “get better” and “speedy recovery” wishes, were the vilest and most mean spirited tweets one can imagine:
You should have died in that balloon today.
What’s it like to get drunk, kill a guy and still get to play nfl football? Must be nice to be above the law. #pathetic
Start walking everywhere so you don’t kill another person!
Too bad you didn’t die like that guy you ran over.
Are accidents less fun when you don’t get to kill someone?
Waste of life.
Good thing you weren’t driving the balloon. Everyone else would be dead.
Donté claims he had no expectation that people on Twitter wouldn’t be crass towards him about the balloon accident saying, “I am almost immune to that, because it has happened so much.” For his friends and family, it was like reliving 2009 all over again in the social media sphere. It did not matter that a number of details about the case had since been revealed, which shed more light on the reasons why Donté received such a light sentence. Among them: Donté refusing to pursue an aggressive defense supported by evidence that would have likely resulted in his acquittal had it gone to trial; Donté wanting to spare the Reyes family from a lengthy and painful legal battle – something they expressed a desire to avoid; Donté ordering his lawyers to negotiate a settlement that would ensure the future well-being of Mr. Reyes’ teenage daughter; Donté instructing the attorneys and publicists working on his behalf to not release any information that could be construed as blaming Mr. Reyes for contributing to the fatal accident. Simply put, Donté insisted on taking full responsibility and letting the chips fall where they may. All of this escapes his most vocal critics who have never taken the time to look more closely at the facts of the case or looked and decided to dismiss them, because their minds were already made up about who Donté Stallworth is.
The night before going up in that balloon, Donté tweeted: “What people think of me is none of my business”, a slightly tweaked quote from new age guru, Deepak Chopra. As his friend, I believe Donté partly accepts that and will come to fully appreciate its truth eventually.