by Hayden Alfano
If the New York Giants want to repeat as Super Bowl champions, they’ll have to do it without the man who caught the game-winning touchdown pass in last year’s championship game.
Earlier this week, wide receiver Plaxico Burress was suspended for four games by the team for an incident in which he accidentally shot himself in the thigh with an illegally concealed weapon at a New York City nightclub. The Giants also placed him on the reserve non-football injury list. Under National Football League (NFL) rules, placement on the list makes a player ineligible to play for the rest of the season.
Of course, Burress faces problems much larger than his season being over, or whether the Giants or the NFL, for that matter, will welcome him back next year. He’s potentially facing charges that carry with them a minimum three-and-a-half-year prison sentence.
Burress’ behavior was certainly bad. But even more outrageous were the comments made by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the aftermath of the incident.
Bloomberg, whose agenda as mayor has included an anti-gun initiative, reportedly had the following to say: “Our children are getting killed with guns in the street. Our police are getting killed. I think it would be an outrage if we didn’t prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”
Bloomberg’s comments are over the top. While one reading of his response is that Burress should not escape punishment due to his celebrity status, his word choice belies a different motive. If you want to say that so-and-so shouldn’t get preferential treatment, you come out and say, “So-and-so shouldn’t get preferential treatment.” You don’t invoke “prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.” Such harsh language paints Burress in a more disfavorable light than he deserves.
Particularly if Burress ends up spending a significant time locked up, comparisons to former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick are inevitable. Vick is, of course, serving a federal prison sentence for his involvement in operating a dogfighting ring.
There’s likely a difference between Burress’ and Vick’s cases, however. Vick’s criminal behavior violated the very principles that lead the legislature to make what he did illegal. He financed dog fighting, and that led to gambling and cruelty to animals. Financing dog fighting is illegal in this country precisely because it leads to gambling and cruelty to animals.
Burress’ situation is a bit different. While the mere presence of a gun creates a danger that wouldn’t otherwise be there, the children and police officers that Bloomberg referred to being killed are not being killed by people like Plaxico Burress. They’re being killed by gang members and drug dealers and others who carry guns for violent purposes. There’s no indication that Burress is such a person.
Burress clearly broke the law, and Bloomberg is right in that he shouldn’t be treated differently simply because he’s a professional athlete. But that cuts both ways. There’s no indication that Burress was carrying the gun for violent purposes, or that he pulled it out during an altercation. He most likely was carrying it for self-defense. Who knows why it went off, and while the fact that it did go off is a good argument against carrying guns, that fact hardly makes Burress the violent criminal that the words “the fullest extent of the law” seem aimed to make him out to be.
Burress deserves to be punished for his crime, and if that means prison time, then so be it. But he doesn’t deserve to be treated as the example for a mayor trying to make a point.
(Photo by tedkerwin via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)
New York Giants
National Football League
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by Hayden Alfano