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Justice Is Served


September 23, 2009 12:05 PM

No justice in Plaxico's prison sentence

He looks like the portrait of injustice. That’s about all you can say about Plaxico Burress as he walked into a New York courthouse Tuesday and prepared to begin his sentence of two years in state prison.

Yeah, Burress broke the law, but if his punishment reflects the best of American justice, I prefer something else.

I guess if I hadn’t seen lesser crimes than his earn a “perp” probation, I wouldn’t feel as I do about this sentence. I also know that if I liked Burress more, I might even be more outraged about it.

But he’s hardly a player whose behavior engenders warm feelings. Burress exudes a cockiness this is off-putting, and he doesn’t help his public profile when he lets his appetite for high style trump substance. He often displays a smug callousness that borders on self-righteous, although he’s hardly the lone athlete who does so.

Yet athletes who flaunt their wealthy lifestyles win few popularity contests. Fans yearn to see a star's profile packaged with humility, the sort of image they extol in Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter: classic cool instead of hip-hop crass.

Image is everything, isn’t that what Andre Agassi told us a decade or so ago? Agassi had it right, but when that image carries a hard, urban edginess to it, it isn’t much of an image in some people’s minds.

That image never sits well with the larger public, and when that image is that of a black athlete like Burress … well, that’s an altogether different discussion.

In some ways, I suspect what happened to Burress, the New York Giants star, had less to do with his skin color and more to do with bad law. I do understand New York City’s interest in getting unlicensed handguns off the street; I applaud the city’s efforts. Laws should be in place to punish people who run afoul of that effort; the remedy, however, should be a sentence that reflects all circumstances.

The law should have some bend to it, all things considered.

For if it did, I doubt anybody would find two years in prison an appropriate punishment for a man who shot himself in the leg – an unlicensed .40-caliber Glock or not. The person that Burress hurt was Burress.

I know others might argue that he could have hurt someone else. His Glock went off inside a Manhattan nightclub, and a gun that goes off in such intimate surroundings threatens more than the gun’s owner. The bullet could easily have ricocheted and taken a bystander’s life.

Had the bullet killed or injured another person, New York City has laws to address the taking of a life. Nobody, athlete or not, could expect a free pass, not even a man with Burress’ access to the best lawyers.

But when the law itself has no bend -- gives no consideration to an extraordinary set of circumstances -- it becomes a law that needs to be changed. For no man deserves two years in jail for shooting himself.

Punishment should always fit the crime, but the crime of stupidity, which Plaxico Burress pleads guilty to, shouldn’t put a man behind bars for two years. I see no justice in that.

( Photo of Plaxico Burress by sholmes10191's photostream)

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