BALTIMORE – Decked out impeccably in a gray sweater, dress shirt, tie and slacks, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth spoke in a quiet, serious tone.
When Stallworth was done with his opening remarks after being introduced as the Ravens’ Ed Block Courage award winner, he had tears in his eyes.
It was an emotional afternoon for Stallworth at the Baltimore Sports Legends Museum in downtown Baltimore, receiving an award voted on by his teammates and given to him for how he has handled his involvement in a terrible tragedy that cost a man his life.
"It’s always special to get voted for something by your teammates," Stallworth said. "Those are the guys that, other than family and guys that have wives and children, you spend the most time with. You really get to know them really well.
"I think it really speaks volumes for the guys in the locker room. It really makes me feel good to know that they see the type of person that I am and the type of person that I’m working on to become."
Only a year ago, Stallworth accidentally killed Miami construction worker Mario Reyes when he struck him with his car while driving under the influence of alcohol on a South Beach causeway following a night of partying at glitzy nightclubs.
The consequences of that incident were significant, costing a family man his life. Wracked with guilt, Stallworth went to jail for 24 days and was suspended for an entire season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Since that low point, Stallworth has tried to make amends, apologizing profusely to the Reyes family and giving them a confidential multi-million dollar settlement and sharing his personal story about how a poor decision can change lives in an instant.
"I’m going to continue to do what I said I was going to do from the very first day, to honor Mr. Reyes by really speaking out about how when you make bad decisions, the things that can happen," Stallworth said. "Anyone that will listen to my story and what I have to say, if it changes one person’s life, I feel like I’ve done enough."
During his darkest moments, time spent in a jail cell, in Miami courtrooms where he was held accountable for his actions or even reading about the incident and the intensely negative reaction toward him, Stallworth said he never lost faith.
"There were times where I had no idea about where or what I would be doing for the next 24 hours," he said. "I really just tried to take one day at a time, just keeping my faith in God and letting him take me where I needed to go. There were many nights of prayer and a lot of positive thinking."
Instead of giving up on his hopes of playing in the NFL again, the speedster prayed and kept working out.
He thanked the Ravens organization, including owner Steve Bisciotti, coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome, for believing in second chances and signing him to a one-year contract last winter.
Stallworth said he wasn’t raised to be a quitter by his mother.
"I think it says something about my upbringing," Stallworth said. "My mother instilled in all of her children that actions speak louder than words. For me to be able to come through everything I came through, I really think it shows how my mother raised her children.
"I’ve always been a person who tries to do the right things and instill in myself some sense of integrity. Just move forward with things as they come and try to take positives from anything I’ve experienced in life."
Quiet and understated, Stallworth has fit in well in the Ravens’ locker room.
Stallworth has earned his teammates’ respect for how he has handled the heavy scrutiny caused by his mistake and for how he has battled back from a broken bone in his foot that sidelined him nearly half the season.
Stallworth has caught two passes for 82 yards and rushed for 30 yards on four carries, often used on reverses or as a decoy to stretch the defense.
"Having a history with him, he’s really just a quality person, and he’s been through some rough things," said Harbaugh, who coached Stallworth with the Philadelphia Eagles. "He’s handled them as well as anybody can be expected to handle them. I’m just proud of what he has done, and the teammate he has been, and I think the citizen he has been. He’s a solid man, and I’m glad he’s on our team."
Days after outside linebacker Sergio Kindle was arrested and charged with driving under the influence for registering a .17 blood-alcohol level that’s twice the Maryland legal limit, Stallworth said he plans to counsel the rookie second-round draft pick.
"I definitely plan speaking with him," Stallworth said. "Hopefully, he’s open to doing that, and I know he is. Knowing what kind of a guy he is, I know that he feels really bad about what happened, and I feel like I can share my experiences with him. Hopefully, he can go on and make better decisions from there."