NEW YORK -- New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau escaped a jail term Tuesday and was sentenced instead to 90 hours of coaching football at Rikers Island for assaulting a patron last year at the swank Studio 54 disco.
Gastineau, considered the best defensive end in pro football this year, had faced up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine for fracturing a man's nose at the fast-lane Manhattan night club in the early morning hours of Sept. 30, 1983.
Judge Alan Marrus, who presided at Gastineau's trial, sentenced the football star to 90 hours of community service -- conducting a football clinic for prisoners between the ages of 16 and 21 awaiting trial at Rikers.
Marrus said the sentence would provide 'community service for the benefit of young people who hold you (Gastineau) in such high regard.'
'I am sending you to Rikers Island -- not as an inmate, but as a teacher. The way you perform this community service will demonstrate how big a man you are,' Marrus said.
Gastineau, whose wife, Lisa, and mother were with him in the full courtroom, said he was satisfied with the sentence. He maintained his innocence to the end, however, and said the only thing he would have changed was his decision not to testify in his own defense.
'I suffered a lot,' Gastineau told the court. 'I did play very well during the trial. And maybe I need a trial every week. I worked very hard to get a name that is respectable. And it has been somewhat destroyed.'
Outside the court, Gastineau said, 'I'm very happy with the outcome. I'm happy I will be able to help people who need my help.'
Marrus said that in deciding against a jail sentence, 'I accept the fact that you are not a criminal in the true sense of the word. The only people who should be afraid of you are the players in the National Football League.'
In rejecting the fine, Marrus said, 'For you, a $1,000 fine would be like taking a drop of water from the Atlantic Ocean.'
However, Peter Morrison, Gastineau's attorney, said his client had lost a number of personal endorsements from commercial enterprises because of the trial.
Gastineau, 27, was convicted Sept. 12 in Manhattan Criminal Court on assault charges. Teammate Ken O'Brien, 23, who was out with Gastineau that night, was acquitted of assault.
Witnesses testified the brawl began after the 6-foot-5, 270-pound football player, known for his showmanship before crowds, lost an arm-wrestling contest with a bartender.
Disco patron John Benson, 22, of New York, and club owner Marc Fleischman were injured in the fight and Benson was treated at St. Clare's Hospital for a fractured nose and cuts. Neither was admitted to the hospital.
Benson filed the complaint against the football players.
The free-for-all began about 2:20 a.m. after 175-pound bartender Scott Baird beat Gastineau in an arm-wrestling competition.
Gastineau told Baird he wanted another try, according to Fleishman, but 'the bartender realized the guy was really mad and didn't want to do it. Then somebody bumped into Gastineau and he (Gastineau) smashed him in the face. The guy just sort of brushed against him.'
The fight escalated, and Fleischman said he was thrown in the air and landed on his hip and elbow.
Gastineau, described by one National Football League publication as a 'replica of the Incredible Hulk,' was in a foul mood earlier in the night because of the Jets' plans to move out of New York City to New Jersey, the bar owner said.
Gastineau is in his sixth season with the Jets.