Is Plaxico Burress an Anomaly?

INSERT DESCRIPTIONPhoto: G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times

A few years back, I wrote an article about the N.F.L.’s annual “rookie symposium,” a four-day gathering during which the league tries to warn incoming players about all the pitfalls they may face — personal threats, bad influences, gold-digging women, dishonest money managers, etc.

The N.F.L. even brought in a bunch of veterans and retirees to try to teach the young guys some lessons. One was the former wide receiver Irving Fryar:

“We’re going to have some idiots come out of this room,” he begins. “Those of you feeling good about yourselves, stop it. You ain’t did nothing yet.” Fryar recites his career stats: 17 N.F.L. seasons, a drug habit since he was 13, and four trips to jail. “The first time, I was stopped in New Jersey,” he says. “I was on my way to shoot somebody. Driving my BMW. I had guns in the trunk, and I got taken to jail. The second time, also guns. Third time was domestic abuse. Fourth time, it was guns again. No. Yeah, yeah, it was guns again. Things got so bad for me, I put a .44 Magnum up to my head and pulled the trigger.” Now Fryar is a minister. “When I was a rookie,” he says, “we didn’t have anything like this [symposium]. I had to learn it the hard way. Don’t use me as an example of what you can get away with, brothers. Use me as an example of what you shouldn’t do.”

It looks like Plaxico Burress didn’t pay attention. I briefly met Burress back when he was first drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and have followed his career medium-closely ever since. I have concluded that my first impression was pretty much accurate: he is a Grade-A knucklehead. His latest misstep — shooting himself in the leg in a nightclub — is easily the most serious (he may well go to prison for criminal possession of a handgun under New York City law), but his history on and off the field reads like an idiot’s checklist.

But how anomalous is Burress?

According to this ESPN report from a couple years ago, not very:

Many incidents indicate that athletes rely on firearms for self-protection or as a means to resolve an altercation. But estimates on how many professional athletes carry guns, legally or illegally, vary. By [Luke] Scott‘s estimation, as many as 20 percent of Major League Baseball players carry concealed weapons, and more than 50 percent own some type of gun.

Roger Renrick is familiar with the prevalence of guns among professional athletes. A former Boston police officer, Renrick is now a bodyguard who has worked for Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker, and Jalen Rose. Renrick describes gun ownership among N.B.A. players as “very common.”

“I would probably say close to 60 percent,” he said.

New England Patriots wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, a gun owner himself, said he thinks 90 percent of N.F.L. players have firearms.

“Lots of guys I know have weapons either in their house or, in places where you can carry it, they have a permit to carry it,” Gaffney said.

Burress’s problem — aside from the fact that he shot himself — is that he didn’t have a carry permit. And that, while he lives in New Jersey, the shooting took place in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg is devoutly anti-gun. And, according to The Times, the Burress incident has Bloomberg seething:

On Monday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg harshly criticized Burress for carrying an illegal handgun; New York Presbyterian Hospital for failing to call the police of his gun-related injury, as city law requires; and the New York Giants, which also neglected to notify the authorities.

“Our children are getting killed with guns in the streets. Our police officers are getting killed with guns in the hands of criminals, and because of that, we got the State Legislature to pass a law that if you carry a loaded handgun, you get automatically 3-1/2 years in the slammer,” Bloomberg said, speaking to reporters following an announcement about the expansion of job placement services in the city’s workforce centers.

“I don’t think that anybody should be exempt from that, and I think it would be an outrage if we didn’t prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, particularly people who live in the public domain, make their living because of their visibility; they are the role models for our kids.”

If the ESPN figures are even halfway true, the question arises: Is the risk of carrying an illegal handgun smaller than the risk that the average N.F.L. player faces if he goes out in public without a gun?

Burress would seem to have thought so.

Of all the stories about players who’ve gotten in trouble with guns — think Ray Lewis, think Pacman Jones, think Joey Porter — there’s also the case of Sean Taylor, who was shot to death in his own home even though he was armed and tried to defend himself.

His weapon? A machete.


A man has the right to defend himself...even against his own leg.


I believe that it all boils down to cost-benefit analysis. If we are discussing the cost of carrying a weapon, it doesn't matter if that weapon is a pistol, a machete, or a soup spoon. The intent of the weapon is to increase the likelihood of surviving a violent attack.

The benefit is improved survivability, and the cost of carrying a legal weapon (soup spoon in some areas) is negligible when compared to that benefit.

Bobby G

@ AaronS,

How about from the police? From people he's mad at? From his family?

Guns give a man the power to decide, alone, someone else's (or his own) most permanent, most final punishment. Claiming "defense" is a weak and often incorrect argument for "needing" to carry a loaded weapon.


It's not just the gun. It's the fact that these people place themselves in situations where they think they should carry a gun for protection.

If they want to go clubbing, and they fear for harrassment, bring a professional bodyguard (not one of your buddies from HS). Or, don't go to clubs that you'd have a problem in.

There are standards of conduct for every profession. He probably had a few in his contract for things like drag racing, etc. There are activities and locations that are off limits for people in those professions (think contract clauses and rip off joints outside military bases). Professional sports leagues should make it known that you breech of contract is just that.


And just why would pro athletes carry guns?

Would anyone consider that expensive jewlery, automobiles, salary might make them targets for hoods wanting to steal from them or kidnap them for ransom?

Or are guns just a fashion accessory?

Years before all the anti-gun namby-pamby alot of people carried guns. It was just that people were more responsible and the press less predatory in reporting...


All standing laws aside, I think he should be punished for his stupidity alone! A gun is a mechanical device which 'goes off' only when instructed to do so. The fact that it did discharge would indicate that he was doing something with it (aside from illegally having it) in the first place.

Was he playing with it?
Was he pulling it out to show?
Was he pulling it out to protect himself?

The list likely goes on and on but the fact is that he didn't have a permit, it was loaded, it discharged, his friend tried to hide it and the hospital didn't call as is law.

Plax WILL get 3.5 years and hopefully he does something good with it and comes out a productive member of society...


Maybe being trained and brought up in a violent game like football increases ones tendancies towards violence?


Can't these athletes who are scared of being robbed just take out insurance on their "bling"?

Ray Lewis

I didn't have a gun. My friends stabbed two guys to death outside a nightclub and people shot at my limo as it was driving away.

I testified against my boys, even going so far as to describe how I saw them do it in court, but both of them were acquitted.

We're not friends anymore. Get your facts straight


John, I believe Plaxico Burress would argue that the cost of carrying a legal weapon (even though his appears to be illegal) is NOT negligible: he shot himself even though he was apparently in no physical danger.

Devon M

It's illegal
end of story, end of season
see you in and around 2012


#8 made me laugh. It's a great point. Call up GEICO and ask what they can do for you and your homies.


Oh great, hear we go again on the gun debate....


I have no sympathy for Mr. Burress and I hope that he receives the same sentence that any other non-celebrity would get in the same situation.

He might have a valid concern about being robbed or attacked, but he blew it when he stuck an illegal weapon in the waist band of his pants. If he wants to own a gun, he should do it the same way that gun owners I know have done: they've taken courses on the proper handling, storage, and care of weapons, they've received permits, and they've handled and carried their guns properly.

As other posters have said, a weapon is not a prop. When you own a gun and you show no respect for the weapon's capabilities, the law, and your fellow citizens, you should be put away.


Re: insurance. Yes, they can and they do. But that misses the fundamental point: robbery is an inherently violent act, and robbers, receiving their loot, don't always just thank you and leave. Similar to why armored car drivers carry insurance /and/ guns: they know that someone who's willing to point a gun at you to steal your property is likely enough to shoot you afterward.

No, nothing I own is worth my life. But if you're a robber threatening to cause physical harm to me or my family to get it, it /is/ worth your life.


I'm not very familiar with gun control laws. Is the real issue that he did not have a permit for it, and if he had a permit would this be a non-issue?

If so, why would he take the risk of having one in public without a permit, when he could probably obtain one legally?


Yes, he might be able to carry the gun, but only if he has a permit to do so. The fact that he is a famous NFL player doesn't make him immune to the law system; he must face the consequences of his actions as any other American would have done.
I agree with rw, author of the 6 post, a gun is a machine that would not activate itself, unless instructed to do so (pulled the trigger). No matter why the reason to pull the trigger, the end of the story is he did, so he, as well as anybody else, has to face the consequences of his actions.


@#10 Mitch - He got shot in the leg due only to the negligence on his part. Guns do not, and cannot, just "go off". Unless that trigger is pulled the bullet stays in the chamber. You may say that something bumped the trigger. Well then it's still his fault because the gun wasn't in a proper holster. The gun is supposed to stay in the holster and not clear leather unless there's a direct threat to your life. So carrying the gun didn't really have a cost, it was being stupid that has the cost.


Ok, so Mike Vick got 3 years and served only 23 months, but Plax should get 3.5 years?


The real crime here is naming your child Plaxico.