Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Real Life and Pro Sports
Plaxico Burress is the wide receiver on the New York Giants who caught the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. In the NFC Conference championship game, he torched the Packer’s defense in a way they had not been abused all season. Burress is an incredibly talented player and was, up to this year, a major star for the New York Giants. Last year he played in great pain and people often reflected on his courage to play through pain.
This year has been a different story. He signed a huge contract and played a great first game of the season and other than that, was not a huge factor in the Giants’ success this season. Personal issues and, frankly, stupidity on his part, led him to a suspension and he was also injured again. He was becoming a distraction on a very solid team that increasingly looked like didn’t need him very much.
On Friday night, wearing a lot of ‘bling’ and carrying wads of cash, Burress showed off a gun he had in his pocket to protect him from criminals. During the course of the evening, he was fumbling with the weapon and it fired and the bullet went through his thigh. The good news is that it was essentially a flesh wound that left little damage and will be fine. The bad news is that carrying that gun in New York City was a felony that has a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 ½ years.
It is looking like his next games might be in the penal league with Michael Vick throwing passes to him. The Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg weighed in and suggested that if Burress is not prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, it would be a travesty. When the judge imposed bail of $100,000.00 it signaled that the New York criminal justice system is not playing games with Burress. Burress could easily afford bond, but the amount of the bond is steep.
In recent years we have seen several professional athletes caught up in major legal problems and even jail time. A tragic issue with this is that as they face the criminal justice system and even jail time, they have a ‘deer in the headlights’ look of bewilderment.
The problem? Often the star players in high school get very special, some would say, pampered treatment. People often identify with the high school teams and they want their teams to do well. Often teachers and administrators are willing to overlook some things to accommodate these great athletes.
In college these young folks are often given major scholarship money and the best accommodations on campus so they can play on the school team. Again, many colleges use sports to help define who they are. And, again, often things are overlooked with the star athletes that might not be overlooked with other students.
If you have ever watched some of the pro players in the NFL or the NBA being interviewed and they sound like they are barely literate, it is chilling to note that they have high school diplomas and four years of college. Many or most of them do not have degrees from the colleges, only trophies from their triumphs on the field of play. It should be noted, however, that Penn State football players have a very high percentage of graduates. Whatever one thinks of Joe Paterno, he has high expectations of his players in their conduct and their academic performance. Sadly, very few see him as a role model for a college coach, whereas he ought to be.
Then they become pros. The professional sports leagues offer big, big money. Many of these players can barely read and they are making an annual salary higher than their local high school’s annual budget. They have big money, and buy big houses, and fast cars, and live life in the fast line. All the while there is the expectation that they are protected because they are the team’s star player.
And then they rape a woman.
Or they sponsor dog fights.
Or they kill or attack someone.
Or they shoot themselves in the leg with an illegal gun.
Or they get drunk and drive.
The list is endless. And suddenly they find themselves arrested by police officers who are unwilling to overlook something because this perpetrator is a star.
They come before judges who see them first as the defendant that they are, and less as a player on a team.
They are placed before juries of people who are working hard for a lot less money and who obey the law.
Plaxico Burress is in big trouble. He carried a loaded gun in a city where carrying a loaded gun is a felony. He is facing a mandatory sentence of at least 3 ½ years. His only hope is that he is able to make some sort of plea agreement where he gets less time. It is hard to imagine, probably impossible, for him not to spend time in prison.
The NFL, of late, has recognized that they have a problem on their hands with players running amuck and breaking the law. The NFL has taken this seriously and lots of players have been suspended for significant period of time costing them major money. Many teams have been unwilling to sign such players.
The Giants are, like they always have been, a family-owned team by families with fine reputations. Tom Coughlin and his high expectations of players and their conduct is a reflection of a franchise that has been around a long time. The Giants have proven themselves to be more than willing to remove players on their roster who have become distractions.
When pampered people get away with a lot and they confront a society that is less tolerant than their school or teams, they have that deer in the headlights look of horror. How can they be doing this to me?
Perhaps this is a statement or a reminder that pampering people or loosening the rules for star players do little good for the schools, and ultimately does very little good for the players. Real life is out there waiting for everyone; even the star of the team.