Fatal Traffic Incident Involving Donte Stallworth the Latest Black Eye for Tennessee, NFL

Last month after Terry Glenn was arrested, I posted about the litany of Ohio State WRs who had been in trouble with the law. Not surprisingly, that post received comments calling me an “idiot” and essentially saying that similar lists could probably be compiled for any major college football program in America.

Unfortunately, the post I am writing this afternoon will prove those commenters right — and the subject isDonte Stallworth Fatal Accident - former Tennessee WR my favorite college football team: the Tennessee Volunteers.

As you surely know by now, former Volunteer WR Donte Stallworth was detained yesterday after the Bentley that he was driving hit a man who died soon thereafter. No charges have been field as of yet, but reports last night cited sources close to the situation that Stallworth had been drinking prior to the accident and would ultimately face charges, pending the official results of toxicology tests.

For fans of the Tennessee Volunteers and the NFL, this story feels like deja vu all over again.

Shockingly, and sadly, if the Tennessee football teams from the late 90s and early 00s held a reunion and gave out a Black Eye Award for Vol players in the NFL shining a negative light on their alma mater, Donte Stallworth’s incident yesterday would not even be among the top two nominees.

Leonard Little

The most infamous incident involving an ex-Vol is Leonard Little. Following a party in 1998, Leonard Little crashed into and killeLeonard Little - two DUI arrests - former Tennessee LBd Susan Gutweiler in St. Louis, MO. Little’s BAC measured .19 after the accident, more than double the legal limit of 0.08. Little pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter, received 98 days in jail, four years probation, and 1000 hours of community service. He was also suspended for 8 games of the 1999 season.

Since the 1998 accident, Little has signed contracts totaling 8 years and $37 million dollars.

Then, in a disturbing coda to the 1998 story, Little was arrested for drunk driving again, plus speeding, in 2004. Because of his prior arrest this was a felony case, but Little was acquitted of driving while intoxicated and convicted of only the misdemeanor speeding charge.

Dwayne Goodrich

You might think that other former Volunteers would have learned a lesson from the horrific story of Leonard Little. Unfortunately, the empirical evidence seems to suggest that they learned no lesson at all. Donte Stallworth’s accident yesterday is a perfect example, as is the story of former Volunteer and Dallas Cowboy Dwayne Goodrich.

Goodrich was an outstanding cornerback on the Volunteers’ 1998 National Championship team. He was tagged to cover superb Florida State WR Peter Warrick in the Fiesta Bowl that year, a game in which the Vols were huge underdogs. Goodrich stifled Warrick, had an interception return for a touchdown, and was named Defensive MVP of the game. Later that year he was drafted in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft by the Cowboys.

In 2003, however, Goodrich’s life, his NFL career, and the lives of three good samaritans came crashing down in a fog of alcohol, speed, and fiery cars.Dwayne Goodrich in jail - former Tennessee Volunteers and Dallas Cowboys CB

After a night that Dwayne Goodrich, according to the Dallas Observer, has admitted included topless bars and alcohol (but not intoxication, according to Goodrich), he drove his BMW through the scene of a car accident in which pedestrians were attempting to free a man who was unconscious from a car that was on fire. Goodrich struck three of the pedestrians, killing two of them. Police reportedly believed that Goodrich was going 110 MPH at the time of the accident.

Dwyane Goodrich was arrested on charges of vehicular manslaughter and eventually convicted on two counts of criminally negligent homicide. In January of 2006, the families of the victims were successful in getting 5 years added to Goodrich’s original 7 1/2 year prison sentence. He remains in prison today.

That makes three separate traffic incidents, all involving alcohol in varying degrees, all involving former Tennessee stars and first-day NFL draft picks, and all tragically resulting in the deaths of innocent people.

I just sat here for five minutes trying to figure out what to say next, and came up with nothing. What can you say?

In the case of Donte Stallworth, he has seen a high profile alum (Little) and a former teammate (Goodrich) kill people because they were driving under the influence, or in Goodrich’s case, at a minimum driving out of control. He has also seen Little essentially get lucky making the same mistake again, being arrested for drunk driving but thankfully not injuring anyone.

I realize there there is a certain element of “bad luck” involved in tragedies such as these. But as Mike Florio said earlier today over at PFT regarding the three individual stories of former UT players killing people with their cars,”It’s most likely a coincidence. But the gravity of the consequences tells us that it would make plenty of sense for someone in Knoxville to explore the possible existence of a something other than randomness.”

Moreover, these three incidents are far from the only brushes with the law for former Tennessee stars from the late 90s and early 00s. A brief, and probably not comprehensive, rundown of the embarrassing litany of former UT player trouble:

Albert Haynesworth

Sticking with the theme of traffic trouble, new Washington Redskin Albert Haynesworth was recently indicted on two misdeAlbert Hayneworth Steps on Andre Gurodemeanor traffic charges stemming for a car accident in December 2008. This came on the heels of traffic charges in 2006 that were dismissed by a Putnam County, TN judge on the grounds that the offenses occurred outside of their jurisdiction.

Haynesworth also famously stepped on the face of Andre Gurode during a game in 2006. This is only the most highly publicized anger management issue involving Haynesworth.

He reportedly once kicked former teammate Justin Hartwig in the chest during training camp with the Tennessee Titans, and had a history of temper issues while at the University of Tennessee. One such story involved Haynesworth fighting with teammate Will Ofenheusle, leaving practice, and then returning with a long pole looking for Ofenheusle. Phil Fulmer stopped Haynesworth before he could use the pole and he was suspended for half a game.

Shaun Ellis

Shaun Ellis arrested in December 2008 for marijuana possession, driving without insurance and speeding. While at Tennessee, Ellis was charged with felony assault of a woman in April 1999 after allegedly striking a woman in the head with a glass after she threw a drink in his face at a party. Ellis agreed to pay the woman’s medical bills, undergo an assessment to see if he needs drug or alcohol treatment, and maintain a 2.5 GPA.

Former Tennessee RB Travis Henry has fathered nine kids with 9 different womenTravis Henry

A few months after being released by the Denver Broncos because “his commitment was lacking,” Travis Henry was arrested in October of 2008 on suspicion of knowingly and intentionally conspiring to distribute and posses with intent to distribute cocaine. He was eventually placed on house arrest.

Henry famously, and disturbingly, has also fathered nine children by nine different women and is currently embroiled in a series of lawsuits for back child support payments. On March 14th, Henry was jailed for falling $16,600 behind on support for one of his kids. He currently owes $170,000/year in child support payments.

Jamal Lewis

Jamal Lewis was charged with conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine and using a cell phone in the commission of the first count. In February of 2005, Lewis began a 4-month prison term for trying to set up the drug deal. He was also suspended 4 games in the 2004 for a repeat violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He served the suspension while on IR, missing 4 game checks.


Cedrick Wilson was arrested for punching his ex-girlfriend in the face while at a restaurant. He was subsequently cut by the Steelers. Travis Stephens was arrested, according to the page that contains his mugshot at the Montgomery Country Sheriffs Office website, for “drugs – simple possession/casual exchange.” Deon Grant, according to WRAL.com report from January 2004, got into enough trouble that owner Jerry Richardson reportedly told him he was either going to get his “stuff together” or the Panthers would have to let him go because they were trying to clean up the franchise in the wake of the Rae Carruth scandal.

Each of the players listed in this post helped contribute to one of the most successful eras in the storied history of Tennessee football. From 1995 through the 1998 championship season, Tennessee went 45-5. Leonard Little graduated with Peyton Manning after the 1997 season, with the rest of the players listed above either contributing to the 1998 title or to the success of the subsequent seasons. In total, from 1995 through 2001, Tennessee went 73-14 and won 4 bowl games. And each season, because of their ridiculous talent level, Tennessee entered the year with legitimate hopes of SEC and National Titles.

Just look at the draft history of that era for Tennessee football:

  • 1996: 8 players drafted (2 first day picks)
  • 1997: 3 players drafted (2 first day picks)
  • 1998: 7 players drafted (3 first day picks, including Peyton Manning #1 overall and Little in 3rd round.)
  • 1999: 6 players drafted (3 first day picks)
  • 2000: 9 players drafted (8 first day picks, including Lewis and Ellis in 1st round, Goodrich and Grant in 2nd round)
  • 2001: 5 players drafted (2 first day picks, including Henry in 2nd round)
  • 2002: 10 players drafted (4 first day picks, including Stallworth and Haynesworth in 1st round)

While it is perhaps not on the same level of the University of Miami over the same time span, it is still an impressive display of talent compiled on a yearly basis by the Volunteers. Unfortunately, once these players went into the NFL, many succeeded on the football field but proved unable to stay clean off of it.

Donte Stallworth Detained for Potential DUI in Fatal Traffic AccidentFor me personally, the story of Donte Stallworth yesterday really hit home more than any of the others. Part of the reason is because he currently plays for the Cleveland Browns and the other part is that Donte has always been one of my favorite Volunteer players ever. He was so electric as a freshman in 1998 and throughout his career in Knoxville, and he brought the same excitement to the NFL when he was healthy.

But the incident that occurred yesterday was another crushing reminder that many of the Volunteer players I grew up watching and admiring were not worth much admiration in the first place. I am not one who looks to athletes for guidance in any way, or to be role models, but I also don’t want to see lists like the one above come from the team I root for. I was an Indiana basketball fan long before I was a Tennessee football fan, so character and off-court/off-field conduct has always meant something to me.

With so much ridiculousness swirling around the Tennessee program recently because of Lane Kiffin and his clownishness, the most recent off-field tragedy involving a former Volunteer may shift the focus to the story that is even more embarrassing: the continued run-ins with the law of former Volunteer football players. And unfortunately, these run-ins have been much more egregiously severe than the usual run-of-the-mill type stuff for NFL players like marijuana possession, getting into fights, or even gun possession.

The response to my aforementioned article about Ohio State WRs getting into trouble was that a similar list could be made for any program in the country. And I will grant that point as probably correct. But can you find any other school that can claim three alums who have killed innocent people?

It has not been easy to be a Tennessee fan over the last few years, almost exclusively because of the team’s putrid on-field performance. But after hearing about Donte Stallworth yesterday, then researching this post and reflecting on the program’s seeming inability to prepare players for life after college, my Volunteer pride has a reached an all-time low.

I know that you can’t blame Tennessee or Phil Fulmer exclusively for all of the problems that have been caused by Vols in the NFL. And I know that luck and tragic circumstances have a lot to do with the frightening volume of catastrophic accidents and other legal problems involving Vol alums. Still, the fact that I could research this post for a half hour and come up with the list above is a frightening and disturbing fact.

For all of those who remember the 1998 season, Tennessee very easily could have lost three games that year. The opener against Syracuse was saved for the Vols by a phantom pass interference call that kept the game-winning drive alive. If Fred Taylor hadn’t fumbled on the 1-yard line, or if Collins Cooper wasn’t a complete choke artist, Florida probably wins that epic battle. And Clint Stoerner’s gift fumble lives on in infamy. The result of all of these gifts of fate was Tennessee’s first national championship since 1967.

In the year’s since 1998, Tennessee is just 85-41 with 3 bowl victories, and that record plummets to 38-21 over the last four years. Terrible? No. But far, far below the standards that Tennessee fans had become accustomed too. Add in the four deaths caused by former Vol players, and the litany of other issues detailed in this post that have happened since 1998, and it makes me pause to seriously wonder if a deal with the devil had to be made to bring that 1998 title home.

It is as reasonable an explanation as any for why the University of Tennessee football program has officially become Outlaw U. There is, at worst, a terrible and systemic problem on good ‘ol Rocky Top; and at best, a harrowing series of tragic coincidences has taken place that has brought disgrace to a once proud football program.

After a day in which a wife lost a husband and a daughter lost a father, considering the implications of the Donte Stallowrth accident within the context of college football probably seems insensitive and unnecessary. But at what point should an “institution of higher learning” be held accountable when so many of its highly publicized and pampered football player student-athletes continue to prove that they don’t really seem to learn anything? (Or, to be more specific, don’t seem to learn anything that prevents them from being the preventable and proximate cause of the loss of innocent human life.)

It might seem ridiculous to ask, “what former Tennessee player will kill someone next?” But it might have also seemed ridiculous to ask that after the Dwayne Goodrich tragedy. Then Donte Stallworth’s accident happened, and another man lost his life.

And it probably seemed even more ridiculous to ask that after Leonard Little’s first accident. But the Goodrich tragedy, Stallworth’s accident, and a second DUI arrest for Little have all occurred since.

So maybe asking the question, and doing something proactive as an answer, might have saved lives — making the question itself not so ridiculous at all.

The NFL deserves as much, if not more, culpability than the University of Tennessee. These incidents did not occur on Tennessee’s watch, but rather when these players were in the NFL. I know that players get educated about off-field conduct, and driving after drinking specifically, but maybe just educating them is not enough. Aggressive and often reckless behavior on the field is what got these guys D1 scholarships and then to the NFL in the first place. Since the NFL and college football programs profit off of this on-field aggression, perhaps they should be more responsible for helping to curb its negative consequences off the field.

So I will ask the question: What former Tennessee player (or NFL player in general) will kill someone next? 100% success in prevention is obviously an unreasonable goal, but I sure hope the University of Tennessee and the NFL do something proactive to increase the odds as much as possible of the answer to that question being “no one.”

About the Author

Jerod Morris

I love words. I write for Copyblogger and founded MSF, The Assembly Call, & Primility. I practice yoga, eat well, & strive for balance. I love life. Namaste. Say hi on Twitter, Facebook, & G+.