athletes and guns, athletes robbery
Louis Lanzano/AP
New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress arrives at a police station, Monday, Dec.1,
2008, in New York.

Burress Shooting Raises Questions About Athletes and Guns

December 01, 2008 01:57 PM
by Denis Cummings
Plaxico Burress’ self-inflicted gunshot wound has renewed a debate over whether athletes need guns to protect themselves.

More Athletes Carrying Guns for Safety

Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress turned himself into police Monday on weapons charges. Burress was shot in the thigh Friday night at a Manhattan nightclub when his unregistered concealed handgun accidentally fired.

Burress missed Sunday’s game against the Redskins, who before the game inducted former player Sean Taylor into their Ring of Fame. Taylor was killed just over a year ago after being shot during a home invasion. His death illustrated the dangers facing athletes and convinced many to purchase guns to protect themselves.

Many athletes feel that their fame and fortune make them targets. NFL player Dunta Robinson and NBA players Antoine Walker and Eddy Curry have all had their homes burglarized over the last two years. “A lot of robberies, a lot of people less fortunate trying to take things from athletes and entertainers,” Walker told the Minneapolis-Star Tribune. “We make millions of dollars. We all are targets right now.”

Robinson, who was tied up with duct tape and threatened with a gun during the robbery, purchased a gun soon after. “I’ve heard the league say you don’t need a gun,” he wrote in ESPN: The Magazine. “But if you haven’t been in my situation, you really can’t answer that question. I would never use a weapon in the wrong way or look for trouble. But I’ll tell you this: I will protect my house.”

Many others have been attacked in clubs and bars. The Denver Broncos’ Darrent Williams was murdered after leaving a club in 2006 and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Richard Collier was shot after exiting a club in 2008, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

“I used to see guys walk into clubs with security, and I was like, ‘Who do they think they are?’ But now I’m like, ‘Wow. This is a big deal,’” Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer told the Associated Press. “There’s a lot of incidents that happen around the league—guys having fun and socializing and they get in places where people are envious and jealous of them. Something needs to be done, because it’s not going to get any better. It’s going to get worse.”

The NFL and NBA do not allow players to carry firearms into team facilities, and each league discourages gun ownership. However, the estimated percentage of athletes who carry guns—both registered and unregistered—is well above the national average, and the number is rising.

“We’re seeing a generation of athletes coming into professional sports who have grown up with the glamorization of carrying a handgun,” said Peter Roby, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, to The Boston Globe.

Fred Taylor, a Jaguars teammate of Collier, carries a gun and criticizes the NFL’s policy of forbidding guns on team property. However, he believes that athletes must be smarter about keeping themselves out of trouble. He says he's become vigilant about keeping windows locked and tries to maintain a low profile when going out at night. “It’s about being smart, too, even with a gun,” he wrote in ESPN: The Magazine.

Opinion & Analysis: Should athletes be carrying guns?

Chris Sprow writes in Reason, a libertarian magazine, that athletes should feel free to carry firearms to ensure their safety. He criticizes the NFL and NBA for discouraging gun ownership, arguing that the leagues do it to maintain a marketable image and “sell high-priced tickets to white America.”

“Some would argue these policies are aimed at a culture that celebrates the criminal use of violent weapons, but the effect is pretty clear: The leagues would rather their players put themselves at risk than protect themselves with guns,” he writes.

Bloomberg columnist Scott Soshnick counters that guns put athletes at greater risk for danger. “Enough, already, with the widespread notion of athletes being targets as justification for their packing heat,” he writes. “More athletes should listen to retired basketball star Karl Malone, who makes a simple point: If an athlete is going to a locale where he needs a gun to feel safe, then he probably shouldn’t be going at all. Simple as that.”

Retired NFL player Marcellus Wiley echoes these thoughts in an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines, saying that he became paranoid while carrying a gun. “The mindset changes when you have a gun in your hands because now you’re starting to go out and you’re not looking for danger, but you’re suspicious. It’s a huge paranoia that occurs once you have a gun.”

He now advises players not to carry a gun, though his advice is often disregarded. “Because of the Sean Taylor incident, a lot of athletes were thinking, ‘Hey, you can say what you want about carrying a weapon and the issues it may bring, but in reality,’ they all say, ‘If Sean Taylor had a gun, he would be alive today.’”

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