Plaxico Burress: Why He Deserves Another, Er, Shot


Let’s stop the ongoing debate about whether or not Plaxico Burress “deserves a second chance.” Who really knows whether any ex-con is rehabilitated until years after he reenters society? What criteria can anyone really use to determine that someone “deserves” a second chance? The only reasonable yardstick is whether or not someone has repaid his legal debt to society. Burress has. Now who thinks they have a right to keep him from pursing his chosen profession?

Let’s stop the comparisons with Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger. What Vick did was an affront to humanity. He seems to be genuinely remorseful for the dogs he slaughtered. I don’t know if he genuinely is, but I’m fairly certain that someone doesn’t do something like that because of stupidity, they do it out of arrogance, coldness and a disdain for life. In any event, Vick has been punished.

Roethlisberger, who was accused of assaulting two women in separate incidents, has not been punished. Let me repeat that: not punished. He was made to sit out a few games, which did more good than harm as it gave him the opportunity to ride out the heat. The Pittsburgh Steelers were not about to dump their prize Super Bowl-winning quarterback. He is their property and a valuable source of income, and NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, though he managed to sound righteous and authoritative, did exactly what veteran NFL observers knew he would do: give Roethlisberger a slap on the wrist and look after the interests of his own employers.

Burress’s case is a great deal from either Vick or Roethlisberger. He carried a gun in violation of the law and shot himself in the leg – he shot himself. In today’s Sporting News, David Whitley argues that “Plaxico Burress deserves [a] second chance, and our support.”

I’m not sure Plaxico deserves either, and really neither is Whitley. The point is that no one has the right to deny Burress the opportunity to play football. If he does play again, his on and off the field behavior will prove he merited a second chance.

On today, Howard Bryant seems to go mentally mushy when arguing the case for Vick and Roethlisberger: “In both cases, the narrative of their second chances ended with positive outcomes. Neither Vick nor Roethlisberger was permanently undone by his transgressions – if their recent public images are authentic, they both seem to have emerged as better, more responsible people.”

OK, first, the narrative of their second chances has not ended with positive outcomes. They are far from having ended. Better to say, like the Zen master, “We’ll see.”

And how exactly does Bryant know that Roethlisberger has emerged as a more responsible person? Does this just mean that he hasn’t assaulted any women lately?

Both Vick and Roethlisberger were allowed to play again for one very simple reason: it was worth someone’s while -i.e., the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers – to let him do so. Whether or not Plaxico deserves a second chance — and I would argue that his transgressions are a great deal less significant than many who have gotten that second chance – he’s only going to get it if some team (right now the Eagles seem to be the odds-on favorites as Burress left prison wearing a Phillies cap) thinks he’s can be worth money to them.

This is a much bigger gamble than the cases of Vick and Roethlisberger, two quarterbacks who were probably still in their physical primes. Burress is closing in on his 34th birthday, and age at which, historically, only the very best wide receivers have anything left. His career stats are pretty good: 15.5 yards per catch, an outstanding average, and 55 touchdowns. In his last full season, 2007, he caught 70 balls, 12 of them for TDs, and scored the winning touchdown in the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.

He was a great receiver, one of the best, but you know what they say about pass catchers – the first thing that goes is the legs, and we all know where Plaxico shot himself.

Me, I’d give him the shot. Oops, I mean the opportunity. I’d have some reservations, but I’d probably have some reservations about Burress at this age even if he hadn’t been packing on that farcical night. But let’s stop this sanctimonious debate about whether or not “we” should give him a second chance. “We” have nothing to say about it. It’s now between Plaxico and whatever team wants to take a chance.