Time for Leagues to Do Something About Players With Guns

By John Feinstein
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, December 1, 2008; 12:32 PM

The New York Giants won an important football game yesterday, throttling the Washington Redskins 23-7 on the Redskins' home field. The victory raised New York's record to 11-1, all but assured the Giants of a division title and put them in excellent position to wrap up home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs.

Of course, the lead story in all the New York papers today had nothing to do with the Giants' victory. The New York Times, hardly known for sensationalism, led its sports page with the following headline: "Burress to Surrender to Authorities."

That's because Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress walked into a New York nightclub on Friday night carrying a gun and somehow managed to shoot himself in the leg. News reports indicate he wasn't licensed to carry the firearm.

Burress already had a hamstring injury in the same leg, which was going to keep him out of Sunday's game. But apparently, he felt no need to stay off the leg and rest so that he might be able to play this coming week in another key game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

The easiest thing in the world today would be to focus on what a moron Burress is. He's a moron for allegedly carrying an unlicensed gun into a crowded bar, endangering himself and others. He's a moron because he signed a five-year, $35 million contract at the start of this season and then was suspended for one game for failing to show up for practice and team meetings -- and not bothering to tell anyone.

But that really isn't the issue. Athletes say stupid things (ever hear of John Rocker?) and do stupid things (this list is endless) all the time. The real issue -- once again -- is athletes and guns. The most interesting and chilling quote of the weekend came from Giants President John Mara, who spoke about the Burress incident before Sunday's game and about players and guns.

"Players, for whatever reason feel the need to carry guns," Mara said. "It's not something we're particularly pleased about, but that is the choice that they make. You'd like to think that most of them are licensed to do that, but I'm not sure that's always the case."

Most likely, it is not the case more often than not. Burress reportedly had an expired license to carry a gun in Florida, but not New York or New Jersey, where he lives. If he felt he was unsafe going to the New York club two questions arise: Why go there? And, if you think you need protection wherever you go, at $7 million a year, why not hire bodyguards?

This isn't about safety, it is about arrogance. The fact that Burress, according to Giants General Manager Jerry Reese, hadn't returned his phone calls, tells you how arrogant he is. The sad part is, he'll get away with what he did. He's already hired a high-powered lawyer who yesterday asked people to withold judgment "until the facts come out." What facts? Did he not carry a gun he wasn't licensed to carry into a crowded bar? Please.

Before this is over, Burress will not only get off but he'll have people painting him as some kind of victim. Consider this quote from Giants center Shaun O'Hara: "He's a teammate and there's going to be enough people trying to bring him down. We're here to support him."

Fine, support him. But the only person who brought Burress down was Burress.

At the root of incidents like this is a simple fact: athletes -- and many others -- own guns not because they feel unsafe, but because they like them. They like owning them and talking about them. When the PGA Tour announced that random drug testing in players' homes was possible, Frank Lickliter, a long-time tour player -- and hothead -- responded by saying that drug testers make house calls would be greeted by him -- and one of his guns. Most players thought that was a hoot, old Frank would sure show the Tour, shooing drug testers off his property with a gun.

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