NFL wide receiver Plaxico Burress just finished twenty months in prison for carrying a firearm. New York prosecutors said that the gun was unlicensed. The Constitution begs to differ.
One might think that this injustice would spark the former Steeler and Giant to lay down $1,000 for a National Rifle Association lifetime membership. Instead, after losing the bulk of a $35 million contract, endorsement deals, and nearly two years of his life behind bars, Burress, perversely, has joined forces with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Burress announced Monday that he will speak about the perils of gun ownership to audiences across the country. “If I can just help a child to think about the decision of carrying a firearm or not to carry one out of the home, he or she may save lives,” the former all-pro wide receiver remarked. “You can make a mistake and you can be a better person from it and along the way bring people with you.”
Plaxico Burress made a mistake by not holstering his weapon. He made a mistake by not keeping it on safe. He made a mistake by accidentally shooting himself in the leg. He even made a mistake during his first professional season by infamously spiking a live ball after falling to the ground making a routine catch — that’s a fumble in the NFL, rookie. But did Plaxico Burress really make a mistake by arming himself?
Just three days before Burress’s unfortunate incident in a Manhattan nightclub, fellow Giant wide receiver Steve Smith had been robbed at gunpoint. In recent years, gun wielding assailants have murdered unarmed NFL players Fred Lane, Darrent Williams, Steve McNair, and Sean Taylor. With defensive back Williams killed by a single bullet in a drive-by shooting, running back Lane surprised by his life-insurance greedy wife, and the retired quarterback McNair killed in his sleep by a troubled girlfriend, it’s unlikely that a gun would have effectively countered those sudden attacks.
But Washington Redskins free safety Sean Taylor may be as much a victim of gun control as he was a victim of a gang of armed burglars. In 2006, Taylor agreed to a plea bargain with Miami-Dade County prosecutors after brandishing a gun a year earlier against the alleged thief of his all-terrain vehicles. The court-ordered revocation of Taylor’s Second Amendment rights, along with the inevitable media-frenzy that vilifies athletes who carry protection, literally made him a cliché: the man armed with a knife at a gun fight. Wielding a machete to fend off home invaders, Taylor, just 24 and one of the most promising defensive players in the NFL, lost his life 18 months after he lost his gun rights.
Taylor’s free-safety successor at the University of Miami enjoyed a happier fate. Brandon Meriweather survived a South Florida gun attack by returning fire. Though a college teammate endured a gunshot wound, Meriweather emerged unscathed as the cowardly burglars turned tail. High fives to Brandon, right? Not exactly. The media viciously attacked him and his draft-day stock dipped.
We don’t know if Taylor would be alive if he had possessed a gun or if Meriweather would be dead if he had not possessed a gun. We only know that in nearly identical situations, the Miami Hurricane free safety with the gun lived and the Miami Hurricane free safety without the gun died. Surely this should be a lesson for high-profile athletes such as Plaxico Burress, right?
Sports media are buying the post-prison anti-gun makeover of Burress as a sign of maturity. It’s really a sign of stupidity. Advertising one’s unarmed status isn’t a good idea. It will win him plaudits from the likes of Brady Center President Paul Helmke, who said that the former Super Bowl star “has learned directly, and painfully, about the risks of gun ownership.” But there is a greater risk than owning a gun. That’s the risk Plaxico Burress takes by making such a public proclamation of not owning one.
NFL players often escape crime-infested ghettos to attain riches unimaginable to their former neighbors. They prove alluring targets to the envious people they have left behind. For gangsters patronizing the same clubs, they provoke jealousy. Their televised faces advertise their wealth to thugs who may encounter them with the idea of making off with more than an autograph. Put another way, professional athletes are often the targets of professional criminals. Gun ownership for many high-profile athletes isn’t about a hobby or hunting. It’s a matter of life and death.
Football is a rough sport. Prohibiting helmet-to-helmet hits and fining cheap-shot artists may make players safer. Making pariahs out of football stars who exercise their right to keep and bear arms will not. The players athletes encounter on the streets are even scarier than the players they encounter on the gridiron.