Even if you don't like football, you've probably heard of Donte' Stallworth. Back in March 2009, the then-Cleveland Browns wide receiver made news when, driving drunk the morning after a night of partying with friends, he struck and killed a pedestrian crossing a Miami street.
Stallworth ended up serving just 30 days in jail. He also reached a financial settlement with the victim's family and was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2009 season, but he couldn't dodge being seen as just another celebrity escaping justice by virtue of being rich and famous. After his return to football in 2010, Stallworth never again was quite the same. He was a free agent for the entire 2013 season, and after 10 years in the league, his time in football might be over.
For most, that'd be the end of life in the limelight. But Stallworth has gotten a jump on an unusual second act: On the strength of his social-media savvy and his passion for foreign-policy wonkery, he has built a Twitter following of some 143,000 users, who check in with @DonteStallworth to get his take on everything from the latest blown call to the last Snowden revelation (the most recent being a flash mob in New York City this week to encourage people to sign up for health care). And along with Chris Kluwe and Richard Sherman, he's pushing back against the dumb-jock stereotype, one tweet at a time.
I recently caught up with Stallworth to talk about his future in the NFL, football and concussions, and how he uses Twitter to interact with the world.
Mother Jones: First of all, given that you last played for Washington, what's your take on the controversy over the team's name?
Donte' Stallworth: I've heard both sides of the argument. I don't know. I mean for one, I do feel like the name itself is obviously—it's a derogatory term toward a certain racial and ethnic group. However, at the same time, I do know that there have been many Native people—I don't like to call them "Native Americans," I guess, definitely not "Indians"—I've seen and read a lot about there's a big number of Natives that don't mind the Redskins name and they actually embrace it. Although there are a number of groups as well that are opposed to it.
I think that the whole stigma of the name may still burn deep with some of the Native people, but there are some that it doesn't bother. They actually think it brings enlightenment to the contributions that the Native Americans had in the establishment of our country, but I haven't come up with an idea. I've been trying to think either way, and I mean, I don't think [owner Dan] Snyder or anyone else in the Redskins organization mean any harm. The team name was changed to the Redskins for—I forgot the name—it basically was an honorary name change, it wasn't anything derogatory at the time. I'm not saying the name "Redskins" wasn't derogatory, but the actual changing the name to the Washington Redskins was an honorary move.
So for me it's up in the air, honestly. And I've been really wrestling with this because, yes, at the end of the day it is a derogatory term, the actual word. But even the Native people themselves are torn between this issue. So I think that there's a lot of other issues that they'd like to address first before addressing the Redskins name. There's a high suicide rate within their living arrangements throughout the country, there's poverty, so there's a lot of other issues that I'm sure they would like to have handled before the Redskins name.
MJ: This was also a big year for the NFL and brain trauma. What is your take on the conversation that is taking place right now?
"I think every year you're in the NFL you probably lose three or five years off your lifespan."
DS: My first year in the NFL was 2002 and up until last year, I've seen a major change in the way they've handled concussions. Player safety is definitely something that has to be at the top of the list, because I think every year you're in the NFL you probably lose three or five years off your lifespan. It's just an issue that needs to be taken seriously, and I think that the union and the NFL are doing all they can to make sure they're protecting the players the best they can.
But you're never going to get rid of the injuries. The injuries are going to happen as long as there's football, especially the way it's always been played. So that's something that won't go away. But I guess they're trying to do the best they can to reduce those injuries and really take guys out of harm's way as much as they can.
I don't know what the NFL's going to look like in 15 years. Who knows. It's a great game; it's done a lot for me in my life. Malcolm Gladwell was on TV maybe a couple months ago talking about wanting to have college football banned. I'm sure someone has expressed that before but maybe not of Malcolm Gladwell's stature. It's interesting just because of him even bringing the topic up. Sooner or later, whether people are for or against it whether they like it or not, that is going to be a discussion that is going to come up. That's how it all starts—someone brings up the inquiry: Should we continue to let our children play Pop Warner, high school, and college football? Ten, 15, 20 years from now, who knows where that conversation is going to be.
MJ: It's hard as a fan. I feel conflicted supporting the game and then watching what players go through.
"It's like, 'Wow. Yes, I had fun… but damn, was it really all worth it when I'm in a wheelchair at the age of 45 and can't play with my grandkids?'"
DS: I think it's starting to hit guys, especially the veteran guys that are three, four, five years in the league, and you see these older guys that have been out of the league five, 10, 15, 20 years and they're coming up with all of these brain diseases and just different kind of diseases, not just brain diseases, but a whole bunch of different kind of stuff and it's like, "Wow. Yes, I had fun, yes, the NFL opened me up to a lot of different things, but damn, was it really all worth it when I'm in a wheelchair at the age of 45 and can't play with my grandkids?"
Those are things that I've honestly thought about over the course of the last year or so. Which, honestly, would help make my transition a lot easier to my next career.
MJ: Your Twitter followers wouldn't be surprised to see you become a geopolitical analyst next. How'd you get so interested in foreign policy?
DS: Ever since I was a kid I've always loved history. I think that kind of catapulted things, but I would say the two major factors were maybe 9/11 and the election of Barack Obama. For me, 9/11, it was my last year in college and I didn't know anything about Al Qaeda, I didn't know anything about bin Laden, I had no idea. I think probably after a few years when I started seeing how the country and the policy was shifting due to terrorism, I wanted to know: Why are these people terrorizing us, and who are they?
Once I got to digging up on that, and then you listen to Bush when he said that they hate us because of our freedoms. At the time I didn't know any better, so I had no choice but to understand or at least believe what he was saying. But then I thought about it and I was like, "That can't be the reason why they're doing what they're doing, why they bombed US embassies in Africa, why they bombed one of our ships and then 9/11."