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.