By Jason Keidel
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We've all seen the ancient refrain of Lady Justice – a rag wrapped around her eyes to show that she's sightless. Her visage is sculpted and cloned at courts all around the country. But if justice is truly blind, then it needs a trip to the optometrist, as I can't find two lawyers to agree that Plaxico Burress's brain cramp at that nightclub in 2008 warranted two years in the penitentiary (20 months, to be exact).
Burress, who appears on HBO's "Real Sports" with Bryant Gumbel tomorrow night, was the exclamation point on Mayor Mike's mission statement to seek and destroy stars with guns, a billionaire-turned-bureaucrat who dispenses morality from a mansion. Now that he spanked his favorite bad boy (Burress) and got term limits terminated, he can focus on something important: arresting smokers sunning at Jones Beach, another crime wave of medieval barbarism.
And after the lovely, sightless lady gets her LASIK she can tell us why Donte' Stallworth and Leonard Little – each of whom killed a man and a woman, respectively, while driving drunk – got a combined four months in jail.
I don't know if the case of gun-turned-guillotine was spawned by Plaxico's pigmentation, location, or vocation (or all the above), but the man literally lost his prime in prison, stewing in a cell, where, according to clips obtained by The New York Daily News, he sobbed away possibly the best two seasons of his splendid career. "I lost count," he said, of how many times he cried in jail, according to the Daily News. "You work your whole life to get to a certain place," the article continued, "and tear it all down just making a bad decision."
Make that two bad decisions. It became a tragedy once his decision was prosecuted by all the weight and gravitas of Gracie Mansion, who pushed this legal boulder bounding down the hill, landing smack into Burress's back. "Burress admitted he hadn't even heard of Michael Bloomberg before the mayor of New York City weighed in on the case," says the Daily News. "Burress' attorney Ben Brafman told Bryant Gumbel that there was $10,000 bail agreement on the morning of the wide receiver's surrender. 'Plaxico was going to be released either on his own recognizance or $10,000 bail,' Brafman said. 'Twenty minutes after the Mayor held his press conference, the prosecutor called me and said they're going to be asking for $250,000 bail. And I said, this is outrageous. We had an agreement.'"
Until Bloomberg belched into a bouquet of microphones, promising to make an example out of Burress. Indeed, where would Mayor Mike have been that day had you or I shot ourselves six inches south of the privates?
Had Mayor Mike left the case to those trained to handle them – cops, lawyers, and judges – Plaxico could very well have helped the Giants win another Super Bowl. But we'll never know. And that's a damn shame.
To give you an idea of what he may have missed, let's look at Plaxico's peers at his age. At 32, Marvin Harrison caught 86 passes for 1,113 yards and 15 touchdowns. Same age, Reggie Wayne had 111 receptions for 1,355 yards and 6 TDs.
At 33, Terrell Owens had 85 catches for 1,180 yards and 13 scores. At 33, Hines Ward – Burress's former running mate in Pittsburgh – had 95 receptions for 1,167 yards and 7 touchdowns. At 33, the immortal Jerry Rice had an absurd 122 receptions, 1,848 yards, and 15 touchdowns. Remove Rice, who defied all physical laws and logic, and you've got a guy who probably puts up 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns during each of the two seasons he missed. Perhaps more when you consider the chemistry he and Eli Manning developed over four years.
No, I'm not blind, too. A jaded Steelers fan who has the back of black & gold alumni? Guilty. But I'm the first to highlight his lowlights. Burress had a severe allergy for rules, an Iversonian (Practice!) disdain for team meetings and practices, essentially everything before or after the game. So one could say that he paid a karmic, ironic tax for a crime he didn't commit. No one with a pen and a pulse would write that Burress didn't deserve to be punished. Fined? Hell, yes. Suspended? Absolutely? Cut? Why not? But no doubt you join me in a collective nausea over watching Casey Anthony stroll down an Ohio mall with impunity while Burress burns in the small cube of sun slanting into his cell. The whole system is a mess, and Burress is just a symptom of a larger problem, of course, but since he's a pro athlete and I'm a sportswriter, this is the Nancy Grace case du jour. I don't pretend to be Gerry Spence.
But please don't compare Plaxico to Michael Vick. These abstract, absurd parallels drawn between a fool who shot himself in the thigh and a felon who founded, funded and orchestrated a dog fighting ring that slaughtered a civilization of canines for fun; a man who was already worth $100 million in NFL and endorsement contracts. He can't play the poverty card, the dumb card (he was the starting quarterback of an NFL team, hardly a position reserved for rejects) or the demented card (the NFL tests, vets, and combs through a kid's life with the thoroughness and ferocity of the federal government, though the league clearly let Vick slip through the proverbial crack).
Even after leaving Pittsburgh, Burress did Steelers fans a solid when Eli Manning's lob landed gently into Plaxico's palms, at once winning a Super Bowl and incinerating the impeccable season, italicizing the titanic difference between perfect and near-perfect, spawning a cadre of kids in Nicaragua who brandish fraudulent, 19-0 t-shirts. No more Brady as best ever (Joe Montana never lost a Super Bowl), and no more Belichick as best since Vince, who went an unprecedented 9-1 in the playoffs. (And Chuck Noll went 4-0 in the Super Bowl, while Bill Walsh and Joe Gibbs went 3-0.)
No man is bigger than the brand. So, of course, the league churned on without Burress, as did we, forgetting that a man was left to rot on a cot, wearing an entirely different uniform and number, while his team, the New York "Football" Giants, played the game he was born to perform. There are worse tragedies, of course, but tragedies aren't mutually exclusive. This case stunk from the moment Mike Bloomberg's big nose got the scent and lost his sense.
Rex Ryan, who has a cameo in tomorrow's HBO piece, says he believes in Burress. And why not? The Jets aren't a charity, so their pursuit of the tainted wide receiver must be profound. My guess is the Jets will be rewarded with about 70 catches, 800 yards, and nine touchdowns. Not bad for a dude still squinting into the sun after two sunless years.
I'm still repulsed by Plaxico Burress. Not the man, but rather what he represents – a fool regarded as a felon to make a Mayor's mantra a reality, literally hanging at the leisure of elitists.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
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