Plaxico Burress knows he’s a cautionary tale for NFL rookies, and that when young football players hear his name, they’re less likely to think of his Super Bowl-winning touchdown catch and more likely to think, “That’s the guy who shot himself.”
Burress is OK with that. In a column for the Players’ Tribune, Burress writes that he wants every player in this year’s NFL rookie class to think about him, and think about whether what happened to him can happen to them. Not necessarily the exact same thing — all of this year’s rookies may make it through their careers without accidentally shooting themselves and then going to prison because they were carrying the gun illegally — but Burress thinks a lot of rookies need to know that they’re a lot less invincible and a lot closer to having their lives fall apart than they think they are.
“I know you’re probably sitting back, thinking, Nah, something like that won’t happen to me,” Burress writes. “That’s what I thought, too. And it happened to me. I went from being an NFL superstar to basically being put in a cage for 17 hours a day. I cried so many nights that I lost count. I thought about all the playground legends from my hood who were better athletes than me, but they stayed in the hood doing the same things they had always done, smoking the same things they had always smoked and getting caught up in that life.
“But not me. I got out. I earned my way out. I had worked my whole life to get to where I was, and I threw it all away with one stupid decision. Now I was serving food in the prison cafeteria, mopping floors and cleaning toilets.”
Burress writes that the accidental shooting and subsequent 22 months in prison isn’t the only problem he had in his NFL career. He also found himself supporting people financially who didn’t support him personally — people whose bills he paid for years never visited him in prison.
“I trusted my heart — I had taken care of them because they were family — and I got burned,” Burress writes. “I learned that there are always people out there looking to use you for your money or your fame. It just hurt a lot because it was my own family.”
That’s something that surely will happen to some of this year’s NFL rookies because it happens all the time: Hundreds of NFL players have stories of family members taking advantage of their wealth. Perhaps a few of the players in this year’s rookie class will hear what Burress has to say, and make better decisions than he did.