Friday, August 21, 2009

Burress' atonement and improvement should begin (and end) off the field

We should be hardly concerned or consumed with Plaxico Burress' NFL future after he spends some 20 months in jail for possessing an unregistered firearm that discharged and wounded his leg. I heard ESPN's Marcellus Wiley say that Burress could use those 20 months to develop a program to improve his "skill set" as if the prison in which he is headed features a pristine weight room and football field for ol' Plax to run.

It's the joint man! He's going to jail. Improving his football "skill set" will be the least of his concerns in prison. What Plaxico (pictured above) and many other professional athletes need to learn is how to cope in everyday society without believing it's the Wild West. There appears to be something that these kids are missing once they sign those multimillion contracts but Burress found out the hard way. In the criminal justice system, they are targets, examples to be made of by greedy prosecutors trying to run for public office or earn a pay raise.

The dude who took down Plaxico is probably due a commendation from New York Mayor Bloomberg because he helped take an owner of an unregistered gun off the streets. This disturbing trend of black athletes on the wrong side of the law will continue until these young men learn social skills. It begins in college when they are hunkered together in plush dorms away from the rest of the university community. There is delusion of grandeur, a feeling of invincibility.

I can't blame Plaxico for going into a Manhattan club with a gun, but I can blame him for wanting to go to a club that required him to be strapped. I think it was that prophet MC Lyte who once said, "You ain't guardin' the door, so what you got a gun for?" And she made an astute point. There is no reason to carry a gun and if there is, you probably don't need to be there anyway.

As common citizens, we have all passed on going to a club or nightspot that we perceived as too dangerous. The potential for trouble outweighed the rewards. Our young men have to learn that the streets will eventually bring you down if you keep testing its limits. Burress does not need to improve his football "skill set" while he's away, he needs to improve himself as a man.

Perhaps it's time we start encouraging these athletes to attend summer classes or workshops to improve these skills instead of them running endless patterns or catching footballs. As Burress learned, an NFL career can dissipate quicker than a gun can discharge, but he still has a life to live -- without football. Our men, our athletes are not slaves to their sport. They are people with families and kids who need to set better examples and not pay the price of prison time.

Burress' kids will miss their father and for the rest of their lives have to live with the stigma of their father being an ex-con. Was it worth it? Was packing a gun that night really beneficial? Let's hope that not only the current generation of professional athletes, but the next generation paid very close attention to the fates of Burress and Michael Vick.

The key in this whole game of life is to emerge as a better man. That's what Burress should work on for the next 20 months, and all of his contemporaries should make more of a priority. Sport should be secondary.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Life Increasingly Difficult for NBA Free Agents

In previous offseasons, free agency was a season players relished. It was time to get paid; rewarded for years of arduous service under a rookie contract or a deal that was eventually undervalued. Fast forward to Summer 2009, and many veterans around the league are relieved to still be under contract.

For example, Oklahoma City's Damien Wilkins exercised an option on his contract for a final season at $3.3 million, although he was miserable playing (or not playing) for the Thunder. Traded to Minnesota last month, Wilkins is hoping a productive season can earn him a new contract in the $3 million range.

At this point, NBA free agents aren't greedy enough to demand raises; they just don't want pay cuts. Former Boston forward Leon Powe (a Cal grad) just signed a two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the league minimum. NBA Players Association President Billy Hunter likely won't call to chide Powe for accepting such a deal because he's still in the league under a guaranteed contract. It's gotten that bad these days.

Look at the remaining free agents -- restricted and unrestricted -- still waiting for offers: David Lee, Raymond Felton, Nate Robinson, Ramon Sessions, Allen Iverson, Flip Murray and Wally Szczerbiak. Teams realize they can be patient because offers aren't rolling in for these players. Teams are very protective of their money and offering frivolous contracts. In the olden days -- maybe five years ago -- teams handed out bad contracts like party fliers and eventually paid a hefty free when those players didn't pan out.

So guys with putrid reputations such as Rashad McCants, Stromile Swift and Damon Jones aren't getting much interest, except maybe a non-guaranteed deal and a training camp invite. McCants (pictured above), whose 30-point, one-rebound, one-assist effort in 39 minutes on Mar. 18 remains the most astounding line since Kobe Bryant's 81-point effort against Toronto in 2006, didn't leave North Carolina a year early to be a washout four years later. But a bad attitude and terribly economy is weeding him out of the league.

Eventually, many of these players will find work, but it could be in the NBDL, as a training camp invite, in Europe or maybe at the post office (they are always hiring). But the days where average players cash in on mega deals is over. And free agency is not the beautiful summer locale it used to be. Just the residents now.