Plaxico’s Wounded Leg is Connected to his Heart and Mind
Chris Tinson, TMG
“A yo, my man, leave the gun at home,” I imagine a voice cautioning Plaxico Burress, the New York Football Giants’ star wide receiver who accidentally shot himself in the leg while at the Latin Quarter in New York this past Friday night.
This is sad. Plaxico is a great player, but he seems to be going through a rough moment in his life. I’m not one of these cats who thinks that because NFL, NBA and MLB players get paid a boatload of money—which they do—that they are somehow above the anxieties, frustrations and dumb mistakes that the rest of us go through. They are human beings first and foremost. And no matter what Sportscenter tells us, these players don’t have it all that easy even if they don’t have to worry where their next meal or rent check is coming from. At least not right now.
Burress could be facing criminal charges for carrying a loaded weapon into a public space. This might amount to a felony charge, which could also constitute a violation of the player conduct code that all NFL players agree to when they join the League. So Plax may indeed be out of a contract if this goes in that direction. Worse he could face between 7 and 15 years in jail.
Why would a dude like Plaxico need to carry a weapon into a nightclub in the first place? The only time I’ve known people to carry weapons on them was when they knew something could go down or they knew that something was about to go down. (The other dudes would leave their piece in their car, if indeed necessary, but that’s another story.) Was his life threatened in the recent past? Reports say that he was with fellow Giants teammate, Antonio Pierce, when the gun went off. And that Pierce disposed of the weapon after driving Burress to the hospital. You think that $35 million contract he signed recently would matter if Pierce had been accidentally shot? Details are still coming in at the time of this writing, but you can be certain that Plax’s publicist and agent are scrambling to get a handle on what the press gets their hands on in hopes of salvaging the rep of their client.
But there is a larger point here: youngbloods (a.k.a. black men) need to make better decisions, especially when it comes to deciding whether or not to carry weapons into nightclubs. Once you are on the television, especially when you are an entertainer—which football players are—you have to expect that folks are looking at you every minute of the day. Perhaps this is bothersome for many, but it no doubt comes with the territory. I don’t think Burress’s situation is as simple as that, however.
I’m concerned that many young athletes and young men in general don’t get proper mentoring that they need in order to lead healthy lives. What does the League’s mentoring program look like? I’d love to get a look at the manual. We still by and large operate from the mindset that money solves all our problems. We’ve been hearing it since we were very young; have seen many of our elders struggle with medical bills and utility costs, so we’ve gotten comfortable thinking that a little extra dough around the house or in our pockets will also solve our emotional imbalance and speed up our mental maturity.
Listening to story after story of Plaxico’s troubles with the team this year—missing practices, arguing during the game with head coach Tom Coughlin and teammates, arriving late for meetings—I knew something was up with him. I don’t have to be a psychologist to intuit that something was eating at the young man. But my conditioning told me that there couldn’t be anything wrong with Plax; after all, he’d just won the Super Bowl.
African American male athletes have an incredibly difficult balancing act to perform, but perform they must. Many are successful and many more are not. They must perform during the game and they must be whole at home.
Like Dave Chappelle, who everybody thought was crazy for leaving his $50 million contract, people are going to think that Plaxico is nuts for “letting his team down,” for “not being humble” and for “dishonoring the NFL” for what happened at the club Friday night. Hell, most of my friends called former Atlanta Falcons QB, Michael Vick crazy (and a jury agreed); and the same was said about Tennessee Titans QB, Vince Young. But this is where we go wrong. We have to look at the industry that these players are brought in to. The problem is that unless you’re an elite-level athlete you will never gain access to that world. Part of this is the responsibility of the players themselves. Burress, after all, is 31 years old, so he needs to get it together for himself and for his family. But it doesn’t absolve us from interrogating the institutional pressure that bears down on the young men we think haven’t a worry in the world.
Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg, and now his professional football career hangs in the balance. If this incident costs him his career (i.e. his livelihood), will we still care about his wellbeing?
For now though, as the reports swarm in and his legal counsel gathers the facts, Plaxico Burress has some healing to do, both his wounded leg and his heart.