It wasn’t so long ago that there would have been shock and outrage at any story involving a pro athlete and a gun. These days, stories about pro athletes getting caught with guns are pretty much a dime a dozen.
The reason why the Plaxico Burress story has gotten as much attention as it did are two-fold, and it had nothing to do with the outrage over the fact he had a gun. Burress wound up shooting himself (so there was an element of clumsiness if not comedy to it) and it’s not the first time he screwed up off the field. Heck, it wasn’t the first time he screwed up off the field this season.
While everyone was talking about what a good decision the Giants made by suspending Burress and ending his season (and it was a good decision, just so we’re clear), no one was bringing up the fact that the Burress incident took place almost a year to the day after Redskins defensive back Sean Taylor was killed by a gunshot wound in his home during a robbery. No one was asking why pro athletes feel the need to carry a gun.
Maybe the story of former Jacksonville Jaguars lineman Richard Collier will help out there. He was shot fourteen times after a night out clubbing earlier this season. He is now paralyzed below the waist, and lost a part of his leg as well. Word is, Collier was shot after an argument he got into with someone at the club he was at, a person Collier had gotten into it with before that fateful night.
It used to be that pro athletes, no matter the level of success they enjoyed (whether it was All-Star or all bench), were seen as guys to hang out with, maybe have a beer with. But, never looked at as a target. My grandfather would tell me stories about going to his garage to get his car for a night out and bumping into the great Willie Mays, who had his car in the same garage. Mays would get his own car. How many stars of Mays’ stature would do that today? None.
That’s because today’s athlete is a target. It doesn’t matter what the athlete makes, whether it’s $10M a year or $1M a year, there are always going to be people who look at them and see them as a target, look at them as a cash cow. Granted, some, like Javon Walker of the Raiders, do stupid things that make them target like spraying expensive champagne at a Vegas nightspot. But, most of them don’t.
Still, there are a lot of predators that go after pro athletes. Whether it’s the girl who wants to sleep with him and have his baby (for the child support) to the guy who wants to rob him, they are all out there.
When you factor in Taylor’s death it shouldn’t surprise you that pro athletes carry guns. They feel they are doing it for protection. And, there are more athletes packing than you might think. Ask yourself what you would do if you were a pro athlete making millions of dollars. You might do the same thing.
Or, you might do what Reggie Miller did when he was an NBA star. He didn’t carry a gun. He hired a bodyguard. Someone to watch his back and protect him. The bodyguard was the one who was packing, not Reggie. Which leads to another question. Why don’t more pro athletes do what Reggie Miller did?
There is a simple reason for it. Because hiring a bodyguard costs money. A lot more money than getting a gun (legally or otherwise). A gun doesn’t need to be paid on the 15th and 31st of each month. A gun doesn’t need health insurance. A gun doesn’t need anything an employee would need.
And that’s what bodyguards are – employees. And pro athletes, despite making a lot of money are cheap. Sure, a lot of athletes spend money like it’s water, and that’s because they are making up for the fact that they didn’t have money growing up. A lot of athletes take care of their parents with the money they make, and it’s an admirable trait. Plenty of athletes invest in their own communities as well, something else that’s to be admired.
But, if you ever get the chance to hang out with a pro athlete, you’ll be astounded by what you see. They never pay for a meal. They never pay for a drink. They are taken care of. Even if it is as simple as going clothes shopping, they are taken care of.
Granted, athletes back in the day of a Willie Mays were taken care of as well. But, Mays didn’t make $25M a year. He didn’t get a signing bonus. He was respected, not a target. Targets tend to want to protect themselves if they can.
The age of innocence in sports is gone. Long gone. It’s never going to come back. Sean Taylor is dead. Richard Collier is paralyzed from the waist down. Javon Walker got beaten to a bloody pulp.
And people still wonder why athletes turn to guns for protection.