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Stallworth shows contrition in discussing DUI manslaughter incident

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Donte' Stallworth's daily struggle for peace continues, a process of reflection and introspection that will run the course of his life.

Stallworth, who signed a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with the Baltimore Ravens two months ago, met the media Thursday for the first time since killing a pedestrian in a March 2009 drunk-driving accident in Miami Beach, Fla.

Stallworth was contrite, humble, honest and revealing while speaking to a gathering of reporters at Ravens headquarters, another step in putting his monumental mistake into context.

"It's a tough situation for everyone involved," Stallworth said, "but my main thing is that I have a great support group of family and close friends, and my faith in God has really helped me out as far as being able to be at peace for myself and being in a serene state of mind."

Evan Vucci / Associated Press
Ravens WR Donte Stallworth took questions from reporters Thursday for the first time since his DUI manslaughter incident.

Stallworth, 29, missed the entire 2009 season after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter and being suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Stallworth was reinstated after the Super Bowl, released by the Cleveland Browns and quickly signed by the Ravens, the second team to work him out.

At the behest of Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Stallworth spent several weeks becoming acclimated to his new coaches, teammates and surroundings before addressing the media. Stallworth was ready to speak about the incident -- in which 59-year-old Mario Reyes was killed -- immediately upon signing, but the organization heeded Newsome's edict.

During Thursday's session, no questions were off limits. Stallworth was a man stripped bare, knowing full well that candor was the only policy.

Stallworth, who was entering the second year of a seven-year, $35 million contract with the Browns at the time of the accident, didn't shirk responsibility for his actions. He knows he'll forever be tied to them in many ways, with a family man losing his life while crossing the street to catch a bus home from work.

However, Stallworth aims to rise above that and make clear to people that one grave misstep doesn't encompass someone's entire being.

"One instance doesn't define a person at all," Stallworth said.

Stallworth has spent the past month in Baltimore, working out with his teammates, catching passes from quarterback Joe Flacco and finding his way around. He must meet certain legal stipulations -- he received a lifetime driver's license suspension and must coordinate rides to and from work. But so far, so good in Baltimore.

"I feel comfortable here, and the people have made me feel like I'm at home," Stallworth said.

The feelings are mutual.

"He's an outstanding person," said Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, who was a New Orleans Saints assistant in 2002 when that team selected Stallworth 13th overall. "He's got a great heart. He's a great teammate."

In some ways, the return to the football routine is a solace, an escape, a return to the very thing that Stallworth has loved more than anything in his life. While banned from the league and after completing his 30-day jail sentence -- he also received 10 years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service -- Stallworth spent time getting in shape, working out as much as possible and watching games on Sundays, cheering on his friends and relatives throughout the NFL.

As one might imagine, being away from the game hurt.

"It was tough," Stallworth said. "I've been playing football since I was 11 years old, and this was the first time I hadn't played."

But those feelings paled in comparison to his own mental re-calibration during quiet moments and downtime.

"It's a daily process," Stallworth said. "Now that I'm back playing, it's not something that's in the back of my mind. It's something I deal with every day from the time I wake up in the morning until I go to sleep at night."

Stallworth was calm -- serene, in fact -- throughout Thursday's media session. He spoke slowly, thoughtfully and carefully. The impact of his mistake was obvious in his eyes and the cadence of speech as he talked about being raised by his mother to love and respect others, knowing that "I wasn't a bad person at all" before striking Reyes and trying to justify that reality with the damage he has caused.

"I've become a better decision-maker from the accident," Stallworth said.

The pain he brought the Reyes family will supersede anything else he does in his life, something Stallworth said he intends to address head on with his children once he has his own family.

"My main focus was to make sure that the Reyes family knew that I was very apologetic," Stallworth said, "and I just wanted to let them know that if I could go back and take that night over, I would."

Committing such a horrific act and being away from the game brought Stallworth a greater appreciation for the gifts he possesses. He now has a more profound understanding of precisely what a privilege it is to play in the NFL.

"It renewed my love for the game," Stallworth said. "And being around the guys, I value it so much now as opposed to me working out in South Florida and watching games every Sunday."

Stallworth knows his work has only just begun. To some fans, his mistake will be too much. Some will shun him for what he has done. Stallworth knows this won't be the last time he will be asked to speak about the accident, and, unlike other athletes in a similar position, he didn't attempt to talk about putting the incident behind him.

"I know the Lord won't put anything on my shoulders that I can't bear," Stallworth said.

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