Unequal Justice for Sports Jerks

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for sports jerks.

At about the time that Plaxico Burress was being hauled off in cuffs to the 17th District Police Precinct in New York to be arraigned for criminal gun possession, Stephon Marbury was standing up his New York Knicks bosses for a meeting to discuss a buy-out of his contract. Later in the week, Burress was placed on the inactive list by the Giants, his season over. Marbury continues to insist on “not a penny less” than the 21M he is owed under his contract, and is prominently featured on most New York fans’”worst person of all time” lists

Because Marbury has committed no offense other than being a total dick, he has not been punished for his insolence and stupidity, other than to suffer a permanent exile from his team. But for other repeater wrongdoers, their pasts have caught up with them. They have been hit hard for their most recent transgressions, and nobody’s protesting.

On December 5, OJ Simpson was sentenced to thirty three years in prison for his role in a criminal caper which could have been conceived by the dimwitted Norberg character he played in the Police Academy movies. He’ll be eligible for parole in nine years. Four of his accomplices, including the two who brandished guns, received probationary sentences.

District Court Judge Jackie Glass, who must have clerked for Judge Judy, made a point of saying that she was influenced in no way by Simpson’s narrow escape from a murder conviction in 1995, when she threw the book at him with consecutive maximum sentences for armed robbery and kidnapping. Simpson’s plaintive plea for mercy at the sentencing hearing did not register.

That same day hockey rebel Sean Avery was suspended for six games by NHL president Gary Bettman for referring to two of his ex-girlfriends as “sloppy seconds.” In the words of one writer, Avery’s ouster was in the nature of a lifetime achievement award for his history of antisocial behavior, including race-baiting. It seemed like a harsh price to pay for locker-room language; but no one on Avery’s team spoke up for him, and Dallas Stars management has indicated it may challenge Avery’s contract rights. The NHL Players Association uttered a mild objection to the severity of the punishment, but evidently will not appeal it.

So when justice, whether of the league or legal variety, is being administered to sports celebrities with a history of being jerks, the standard appears not to be what you did, but what you’ve done. Burress is the most prominent to feel the backlash.

A recent article in the New York Times proclaimed that 90% of persons initially charged with criminal possession of a weapon – the charges Burress faces -were not convicted of that charge. But that didn’t stop Mayor Bloomberg from proclaiming that Burress would be “prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” and, incredibly, commenting on the conclusiveness of the evidence against Burress. The Giants followed suit by suspending Burress without pay for the rest of the season, which they are allowed to do for virtually any lapse in personal conduct under the NFL Player Contract, under which salaries are not guaranteed.

It can be argued that Burress, by all accounts a well-liked and amiable teammate, has brought this on himself by a series of insurbordinate acts going back to the start of his professional career. The Giants, in their statement, referred to Burress’ multiple and repeated violations of club rules. But there is no denying the harshness of their treatment of Burress compared, let’s say, to Dallas’ handling of Pac Man Jones, who was charged with more serious crimes, or even the Giants’ enablement of Christian Peters, who mauled women. Perhaps caught up in Bloomberg’s rhetoric, Jint brass had had enough.

If Sunday’s failure against Philadelphia was any indication, the Giants will miss Burress, who lest we forget, caught ten passes in the NFC title game against Green Bay, in addition to his Super Bowl -winning catch. Giants receivers are normally glue-handed; but they dropped a couple last week, and they lack the height or leaping ability which allowed the 6’5″ Burress to make spectacular catches at critical times. Tomorrow’s meeting with Dallas will be a good indicator of the state of the Giants’ passing game.

Because that game has been moved to Sunday night, we’ll miss Fox Sports’ nimble description of the action. Though I am loathe to praise anything “Fox,” the broadcasting team of Kenny Albert, Darrell Johnston, and on-field reporter Tony Siragusa is superb. Siragusa virtually shares a space in the booth as he interjects comments seamlessly from the sidelines, often with great insight. Last Sunday, during a cold day in New Jersey with 25-30 mph winds, he noted, “If you want to know how blustery it is, just listen to the PA announcer’s words get swallowed up by the wind.”

That Meadowlands wind often served as a backdrop to an over-the-shoulder, diving, or scooping grab by Plaxico Burress of an Eli Manning throw during crunch-time. Because the wheels of justice have ground, fairly or unfairly, that is a scenario we are not likely to see again.

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