Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week: all Plaxico, all the time. There's nothing like an NFL player shooting a hole in his own leg in a packed nightclub to become our latest walking, talking weapon of mass distraction. Why ponder the global economic meltdown, two wars, and rising unemployment, when millionaire black athletes like Plaxico Burress walk among us... with guns?
Don't think that this is a defense of the New York Giants star wide receiver. Having a loaded gun in your pants, with no safety, in a crowded club, is about as smart as using a toaster as a bathtub toy. In fact, shooting yourself in the leg is really one of more preferable outcomes. Now Burress faces three and a half years in prison for carrying a loaded handgun in the city.
Right on cue, the moralists are slithering onto their soapboxes to hiss at the latest athletic bogeyman. Hypocrisy reigns supreme.
There's the now-suspended emergency room physician  at New York Cornell Hospital, who was persuaded to treat Burress under a phony name and failed to notify the authorities of the shooting incident as state law requires.
There's the New York Giants organization: New York police officials say  the Giants let at least ten hours elapse before reporting the shooting. What were they thinking--that the cops wouldn't notice the wall-to-wall coverage on TV?
Next, the Giants self-righteously suspended Burress for the rest of the season "for conduct detrimental to the team"--easy to do when Burress has played next to no role for the first-place team. Suspending Burress is easy. They even did it earlier this season. But there is no talk of suspending Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, who was with Burress that evening, drove him to the hospital and is alleged to have hidden the weapon from police. He was set to explain to police today  exactly why he didn't report the shooting either. But Pierce is also an indispensable cog in the team. Suspend Pierce? That might affect their Super Bowl chances.
There's former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who has made a call for all NFL players with handguns to be suspended  without delay. Ditka, who calls himself an "ultra-ultra conservative" and hosted rallies this fall for Sarah Palin, clearly finds the Second Amendment expendable when exercised by these ungrateful... athletes. Here are his comments to ESPN:
"This is all about priorities. When you get stature in life, you get the kind of contract, you have an obligation and responsibility to your teammates, to the organization, to the National Football League and to the fans. He just flaunted this money in their face. He has no respect for anybody but himself. I feel sorry for him, in the sense that, I don't understand the league, why can anybody have a gun? I will have a policy, no guns, any NFL players we find out, period, you're suspended."
But no one is deserving of more scorn than New York City Mayor-for-Life Michael Bloomberg, who excoriated Burress for violating city gun laws. On Monday, Bloomberg seemed to channel Vincent Bugliosi: "Our children are getting killed with guns in the street. Our police are getting killed. If we don't prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law, I don't know who on earth would. It makes a sham, a mockery of the law. And it's pretty hard to argue the guy didn't have a gun and that it wasn't loaded. You've got bullet holes in and out to show that it was there."
Fair enough. It's hard to argue against basic gun control. But there are a few people--including ESPN columnist Jemele Hill --who detected more than a whiff of hypocrisy in the mayor's rant:
"Why wasn't the mayor as willing to stand on his soapbox when New York City police officers shot and killed Sean Bell?" she wrote. "Bloomberg called for a 'thorough' investigation at that time, but he didn't damn those police officers the way he did Burress. (All three officers were acquitted earlier this year.)"
Rage as he has against Burress, Bloomberg displayed no such anger in 2004, when police beat and jailed protesters by the hundreds at the Republican Convention at Madison Square Garden.
Bloomberg's friends on Wall Street have helped precipitate a crisis which we will spend a generation digging ourselves out from. But there have been no sermons on the greed and lawlessness of the financial sector heard from the mayor's bully pulpit.
There's no defending the stupidity of bringing a loaded gun to a place where people party. And so far, Burress hasn't given much of an explanation about his motives--if he even thought it through. But contributing factors are obvious--growing up in the slums of Virginia Beach, Virginia, he saw plenty of violence. And athletes make easy targets: Giants teammate Steve Smith was robbed at gunpoint just a couple of weeks ago. And it's a terrible irony that the Burress imbroglio happened almost a year to the day that Washington football all-pro Sean Taylor was shot to death  in his home by an apparent intruder.
Far too many players feel like they have targets on their backs, and they refuse to surrender their freedom to walk the streets of the country where they are told they are living the dream. Hiring bodyguards or staying home just aren't choices many players want to make.
Guns can't protect professional athletes from real or imagined harm, especially when the owner has no clue how to use them. But three and a half years in prison for Burress doesn't seem like a solution either. We need less moralistic prattle and more serious discussion about how we have gotten to this point: too many athletes are like gated communities with legs: fearful, isolated, and looking over their shoulders.