What Have We Learned From Plaxico Burress?
Yesterday, after spending nearly two years behind bars on gun possession charges stemming from a 2008 incident in which he accidentally shot himself at a New York City nightclub, the former New York Giants wide receiver was released from prison and sent back to try and do the impossible: Revive his NFL career. Before Burress went to jail, he was one of the premier players in the NFL—a tall receiver who posed matchup problems for most NFL teams. He was just hitting his stride on the field, maturing fully off of it, and getting his personal life together (Burress has two children with his wife Tiffany, including a daughter who was born while Burress was locked up). Now? Well, he’s a (nearly) over-the-hill receiver in a league that’s suddenly filled with tall receivers who just wants one more chance to prove himself on the football field.
It sounds like he’s going to get it, too. The Giants haven’t publicly ruled out giving Burress a second shot, and their divisional rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, have been very vocal about speaking to Burress once the NFL lockout ends. Michael Vick has even gone as far as to say that he’d love to play alongside Burress next season. But, this wasn’t the way Burress was supposed to play out the end of his career. He was supposed to be a superstar by now and a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. But then tragedy struck and Burress changed his legacy forever. Rather than waste this opportunity, though, we decided to come up with a list of the five lessons we learned from Plaxico’s situation. Hopefully, they’ll help some other young, aspiring, future gridiron great get his act together before it’s too late.
Lesson 1: No one is above the law.
When Burress accidentally shot himself with a gun that wasn’t registered in New York City, he probably thought that was the worst of his problems. Turns out, NYC has very strict gun laws on the books—and Burress wasn’t immune from them. If Burress teaches people nothing else, it’s that the law is the law. If you break it, you have to be ready to pay the consequences. And those consequences could change your life forever.
Lesson 2: Athletes are carrying guns at an alarming rate.
The outcry after the Burress incident was almost unanimous: “Plaxico Burress had a gun…WHY!?!” Well, the answer to that question is very simple. Athletes today have turned into targets and they, in turn, have turned to guns for protection. In fact, just a week prior to Burress shooting himself, his Giants teammate Steve Smith was robbed outside his home in New Jersey. That doesn’t give Burress the right to carry an unlicensed gun—but it does explain why he was doing it and why other athletes today are doing it today. It was a nice wake-up call for all of us.
Lesson 3: As a result of all of the athletes carrying guns, the professional sports leagues need to address guns more adequately than they already have.
In the past, most pro sports leagues have basically had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to athletes and guns. But as more incidents have come to light, it’s forced the leagues to think long and hard about how they want to educate their athletes about guns and gun safety. They need to continue to do this to make sure that all athletes know the laws about guns in their respective states.
Lesson 4: It’s important for professional athletes to develop on the field as well as off the field when they’re young.
Plaxico Burress spent the first half of his career earning himself quite the reputation as a guy who was a headache for coaches. He wasn’t very mature and he seemed to draw the wrong kind of attention to himself. As a result, he was approaching 30 and still trying to become a team leader for the Giants. That didn’t help him in the press when his gun possession incident happened. In fact, he got dragged through the ringer for it even harder because of his reputation. Perception is reality. And if he’d worked harder to improve the perception he gave off at the start of his career, his plight might have been much different. He probably wouldn’t have avoided jail time, but his story might have resonated a whole lot differently with people.
Lesson 5: A pro career is a terrible thing to waste.
Most athletes have a very small window of time to make an impact. In the case of Plaxico Burress, he made an impact, but it turned out to be a much smaller one than he could have had if he’d avoided going to jail. All athletes out there need to take a step back and realize that they aren’t going to be great—or even just good—forever. So they need to take advantage of the good years that they have and make the most of their careers. Here’s to hoping Plaxico Burress can salvage whatever is left of his.