Perhaps he saw the writing on the wall, or perhaps Michael Vick's ascension to renewed fame somehow inspired him, but Plaxico Burress has reportedly made a plea agreement with the Manhattan District Attorney's office. According to the deal's terms, Burress would serve two years in prison for attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree in a New York nightclub last winter. How does one attempt to criminally possess a weapon?
Shortly after Thanksgiving last year, Plaxico Burress and fellow N.Y. Giant, Antonio Pierce were in a Manhattan nightclub when for reasons only Burress may ever truly know, he brandished a weapon and managed to shoot himself in the fleshly part of the thigh. The self-inflicted wound ended his tenure with the Giants, and perhaps the NFL as well.
Burress had originally been hoping to either elude serving time all together, or work a deal where he received only one year of jail time, which he could serve at the end of the 2009/2010 season. Conceivably such a deal might have meant not missing any playing time at all. However, the Manhattan district attorney's office made it clear that they intended to see Burress serve no less than two to three years if they had anything to say about it. Plaxico was scheduled to reappear in court in September for arraignment on the charges he faced. Now his attorney, Ben Brafman has asked for a September 22nd sentencing hearing.
Plaxico met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last week. Goodell's plan had been to suspend the wide receiver for one season. That suspension could now be indefinite, if not permanent.
I'm of the mind that individuals like Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick don't accept responsibility for their actions until they are backed into a corner, or until they calculate a way to make it work for them. I believe Plaxico's sudden desire to man up has more to do with the latter. Burress could have waited at least another month to make this plea, and possibly dragged this out indefinitely. Here are the primary reasons I believe he chose to make this move now:
A two-year prison sentence in New York could equate to losing only one full football season, perhaps two. In an overcrowded penal system, Burress would likely serve only 12 to 18 months. If Burress waits he is looking at losing at least three seasons, if not his entire NFL career. His only realistic shot at getting back on an NFL team is getting this over and done with.
Burress has had a couple of weeks to watch the Michael Vick story unfold. Vick served his two-year sentence and was rather promptly contingently reinstated by the NFL and snapped up by the Philadelphia Eagles. The media attention Vick's received has far surpassed anything he ever did on the field or off it prior to his release from prison. If Vick can regain fame and glory, why not Burress? He didn't facilitate the killing or maiming of animals, he merely shot himself in the foot, er, thigh. Burress hears the public clamor for stories like his.
With the Vick story in mind, Burress knows the court of public opinion is the most important of all. By accepting responsibility for his actions before being forced to, he shows a sense of maturity and contrition that both the NFL and the public want to see. This will make his eventual return to the NFL all but certain providing he stays in shape while he's gone. He'll have ample time to maintain his physical health over the next 12-24 months.
I applaud the Manhattan D.A. for not allowing Plaxico's fame to dissuade them from prosecution, though I fear on some level, their choice to push this for a minimum jail sentence borders on persecution because of his status. I believe it's important to send the message that fame does not buy you a free pass from the law, but two-years for carrying and discharging a concealed weapon seems excessive when people committing far worse crimes are doing minor jail time or receiving probation for first offenses.
I further applaud Plaxico for doing the honorable thing, I just wish I could believe he did it with honorable rather than selfish intent. Sadly, I don't believe that to be true.
Lastly, I think it's time both the NFL and the public took a harsher stance on illegal and reckless behavior on the part of the players. On an almost weekly, and sometimes daily basis we are reading about some violation of the rules, policy, or law by one NFL player or another. Goodell is doling out suspensions like baby aspirin. These players are role models for our children, who have the gift of talent which allows them to make their living playing a child's game. Far too many of them take their position as a role model, and their gift for granted. They believe their fame and skill buy them a free pass for any behavior no matter how inappropriate it may be. The time has come for the NFL and the viewing public to say enough is enough. If no clear message is ever sent about expectations and consequences then these overgrown children are never going to change their ways.
Barring the New York court nixing the plea agreement, we'll see Plaxico Burress back on an NFL team before we even realize he's gone. The NFL will reinstate him, the public will forgive him, and a desperate team will embrace the memory of his talents with renewed hope. That's just the way we do things for our infamous and notorious entertainment and sports figures. That's the American way. But it shouldn't be.
You can read my thoughts on the Michael Vick debacle here