Trietley: Give Burress a break

By Greg Trietley

Donte Stallworth drunkenly struck and killed a pedestrian in Miami. He spent 24 days in jail.

Michael Vick was convicted on dog fighting charges. He was behind bars for 19 months.

Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the thigh with an unlicensed handgun. Last Tuesday, he was sentenced to two years in prison.

Unless I missed something, Burress’ punishment is too harsh.

The former New York Giant and Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver will spend more time behind bars than Stallworth or Vick, taking three showers per week, having one visitor per weekend and spending most of each day inside an isolated cell meant for his safety.

Burress made about eight bad judgments on the night he shot himself, but he didn’t kill any person or animal. If anything, shooting himself was punishment enough.

The incident occurred at a Manhattan nightclub in November of last year, when the Glock pistol Burress tucked into the elastic waistband of his sweatpants — mistake number one — slipped down his leg and discharged.

If Burress shot himself in Miami and not in Manhattan, he wouldn’t be facing this much jail time. In New York, gun laws are strict, arguably the toughest in the nation.

Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch was arrested in California in February on a felony weapons charge. He received three years probation and community service.

With time off for good behavior, Burress will sit in prison for 20 months.

Rapper Clifford Harris, better known as T.I., received one year and one day on federal weapons charges. Harris, a prior felon who cannot legally own a gun, purchased three unregistered machine guns and two silencers to go with the five loaded guns already in his home.

Yes, Burress’ gun was illegal. He had an expired concealed carry license in Florida, but his pistol was not registered in New York. Regardless, Burress still shoots himself even if the gun is licensed.

Defenders of the strict sentence for Burress note that the bullet could have hit somebody else. But it didn’t. If it did, it’s a different charge, a different scenario and a different headline. And a different argument than the one I’m making right now.

An interesting comparison will be between Burress’ sentence and that of Delonte West of the Cleveland Cavaliers, if convicted. West faces similar weapons charges in Maryland after he had a handgun in his pocket, another in his pant leg and a shotgun in a guitar case. If guilty, chances are the court system will be lenient.

Maybe the court system would be best served to tighten it up with all athletes. But you can’t give Stallworth less than a month in prison for killing someone and then tell me Burress deserves two years for a weapons charge.

Burress is a prima donna wide receiver. He refused to practice in training camp in 2008 over a contract dispute. He also has had legal troubles before, with two dismissed temporary restraining orders and two civil suits against him.

But none of that factors into his sentence. The case solely involves Burress shooting himself with an unlicensed gun. The rest only matters to commissioner Roger Goodell, in spring 2011 when Burress applies for reinstatement.

Burress isn’t Vick. He isn’t Stallworth. He isn’t even Adam “Pacman” Jones, whose arrest total requires toes to count up.

Burress is a world champion with four 1,000-yard receiving seasons. His game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII ruined the New England Patriots’ perfect year. He just made a mistake, which he later pleaded guilty to.

He should have brought a bodyguard to the nightclub and not a gun. He said he felt scared. And now, according to The USA Today, Burress says he is “deathly afraid” of prison. For his protection he will be kept from other inmates, who heckled him upon his arrival.

After the sentencing on Tuesday, Burress asked for permission to say goodbye to his pregnant wife, his 2-year-old son, and other family members, which the judge granted in a moment of leniency.

Hopefully when Roger Goodell examines Burress’ reinstatement application in two years, he’ll show that same leniency.