|Watching Plaxico Burress leave prison a free man into the waiting arms of his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, immediately brought a couple thoughts to mind:
Posted: 6/16/2011 1:31:50 AM
Damn, time flies. It’s evident in the growing number of distinct gray patches I see in the mirror every day, sprouting from my scalp and chin. It also seems like just yesterday when Burress shot himself in a nightclub and his case was in the news on a regular basis.
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two full years since he went to prison for felony criminal possession of a hand gun and reckless endangerment.
The other thought was one that popped up consistently as I followed the Burress case: Did the punishment really fit the crime?
This is a tough one. I understand that laws are different everywhere, and the offense he committed came with some automatic minimum penalties.
Arguing the validity of the law is almost a moot point. In other words, if it’s illegal to spit on the sidewalk in Tinbucktwo, Wyoming, you had better be prepared for the consequences if you choose to hock a loogie in broad daylight.
I get that. But that doesn’t change the disturbing imbalance with which justice is meted out for similar crimes. Moreover, you see charges dropped or reduced all the time, whether due to lack of evidence or because the actions don’t merit the charges.
Sure, someone else could have been hurt, but nothing was worse for the wear other than Plaxico’s unfortunate foot.
Based strictly on examples involving other NFL players, I can’t help but think Burress got a bit of a raw deal. Michael Vick is the obvious comparison. The Eagles quarterback served the same amount of time as Burress for maiming, torturing and killing dogs for the sheer pleasure and sport of it all. He then lied to authorities to the bitter end.
The degree to which Vick has rehabilitated himself remains to be seen, but there’s little argument that he did his time for doing his crime. The same can’t be said for a handful of other NFL players, some of whom were directly responsible for incidents that killed people.
Here are a couple of examples: Former Rams defensive end Leonard Little had a blood-alcohol level of .19 when he killed a woman in a 1998 DUI car wreck. He was sentenced to four years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service. He was arrested for DUI again in 2004.
Baltimore Ravens receiver Donte Stallworth served 24 days of a 30-day jail sentence in 2009 for hitting and killing a man on a Florida expressway while driving with a blood-alcohol level of .12. He was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and DUI.
But the shining example is that of Stallworth’s teammate, Ray Lewis, who went from murder suspect to Super Bowl hero in matter of months, and whose unwavering deification from media and fans is something I’ll never understand.
The linebacker was involved in a post-Super Bowl party brawl in 2000 in Atlanta that resulted in the stabbing deaths of two men. Lewis and two other men, Reginald Oakley Joseph Sweeting, were charged in the murders.
Lewis ditched the bloody shirt he was wearing the night of the incident and lied to authorities. His charges were eventually dropped to misdemeanor obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony against the other two.
Given the chance to help the families of the victims see justice served, Lewis lied. He might not have delivered the fatal blow to the victims, but he knows who did. His “testimony” consisted of answering “I don’t remember” to every question he was asked on the stand. All three men walked.
A year later, he’s a Super Bowl hero and, 10 years later, we’re refitting his pedestal on an annual basis to make sure he’s still comfortable atop its perch. Lewis is seen as some sort of iconic NFL bad boy whose intimidating gestures and pre-game dance routines are to be celebrated.
If that weren’t enough, he’s somehow gained the reputation as a beacon of spirituality, a school-of-hard-knocks man’s man whose combination of gridiron aptitude and street cred make him a noble role model for every NFL player, and a go-to guy for the media whenever someone else gets in trouble.
When Vick got released from prison, media types tripped over themselves to stick a microphone in Lewis’s face and ask the linebacker what advice he’d give Vick. From my point of view, the question should have been the other way around; at least Vick has taken responsibility for his actions.
As has Burress, whose plight leaves me torn, viewing him somewhere between a sympathetic figure and a hapless knucklehead who paid the ultimate price for a dumb mistake.
To be sure, the receiver was no angel before the gun incident. Since he joined the NFL, he has had no fewer than nine civil lawsuits filed against him, some of which are still pending. He also had authorities called to his residence for domestic violence incidents twice in one year.
Even so, I’m not sure he deserved two years in prison for shooting himself in the foot. Something about the disparity of outcomes in his case versus that of Ray Lewis and others just doesn’t feel right.