The Three Wiseman: Michael Vick, Dante Stallworth, and Plaxico Burress

Richard LangfordCorrespondent IAugust 30, 2009

I have learned a lot from professional athletes over the course of my life.  For instance, I have seen the importance of values such as: hard work, determination, focus, and effort. 


Thanks to the pros, I learned at an early age that drive and heart are skills, while moving onto the realization that knowledge and experience can be as important as talent.  Lately, it has become wildly apparent, that observing athletes will be a lifelong learning activity.


For example, just recently I gained some useful knowledge such as: dog fighting does not pay, when carrying a gun illegally always carry it in a holster, be careful of who you sleep with, and if one is foolish enough to drive drunk, do so in the state of Florida. 


This article will make no further mention of the Steve McNair tragedy, but please allow me to say rest in peace Steve.  I wish all athletes approached their sports as McNair had.  He was a joy to watch, while going above and beyond in his contributions to the community.


This article will mention the other incidents. 


Michael Vick received a prison term of 23-months, of which he ended up serving 19, for his long-term role in dog fighting.  Vick lost his 130 million dollar contract and countless more millions in endorsements.  


As examples of Vick’s heartless acts towards animals began to flood the media, the anger and contempt of the general public cast towards Vick began to rise.  Publicly Vick seems to understand the heartless and uncaring nature of his atrocities 


“It’s wrong, man.”  Vick told James Brown in a recent interview.  “I don’t know how many times I gotta tell, I gotta say it. I mean, it was wrong. I feel, you know, I feel, you know, tremendous hurt behind what happened. And, you know, I should’ve took the initiative to stop it all. You know, and I didn’t. And I feel so bad about that now. And I know, you know, that I didn’t I didn’t step up. I wasn’t a leader.”


You know, I know, you know that we know, you know that Vick could never apologize or show enough remorse to win the forgiveness back of everyone.  You know? 


There are many people who will never support Vick again.  Vick paid a steep price for what he did- a price he will continue to pay for the rest of his life.


As D Peterson recently wrote in the animal blog, Unleashed "As long as Micheal Vick is playing football I will be at every game humanly possible to protest. And I will never buy another PEPSI product as long as I live and that is a promise." 


Pepsi has never even done business with Michael Vick, but they do sponsor the Eagles (Vick’s current team). 


Vick is obviously going to elicit the strongest lifelong reactions of this trio.


Even stronger than Dante Stallworth, who drove drunk and killed a pedestrian.  For this crime he received a 30-day prison term (of which he served 24), a lifetime driver’s license suspension, 1000 hours of community service, and will also pay an undisclosed amount to the victim’s family. 


He subsequently was suspended by the NFL for the entire ’09 season.  Stallworth has taken full responsibility for his actions and shown considerable amounts of remorse.


"I accept full responsibility for this horrible tragedy," Stallworth has said.  "I will bear this burden for the rest of my life."


The pedestrian Stallworth struck was not in a crosswalk and apparently ran into the street.  Stallworth has said that he flashed his lights at the pedestrian. 


Apparently, the flashing lights were a warning to the pedestrian that he was about to be run over.  Hey Dante, instead of flashing your lights, how about you step on that pedal to the left of the gas or use that hand that is flashing the lights to turn the wheel and change your murderous course? 


Ear witnesses reported only a hitting sound and not the screeching accompanied with avoidance maneuvers.


After striking the pedestrian, Dante called the police and stayed on the scene until they arrived.  This combined with the fact that he was in the state of Florida (which requires the burden of proof to show alcohol was the deciding factor in the accident) allowed him to receive the seemingly light sentence of 30-days. 


Plaxico Burress was not as location opportunistic, while committing his crime (illegal possession of a firearm), as Stallworth.  Burress shot himself in the foot (or leg in this case) by committing this crime in New York.


After pleading guilty, Burress received a two-year prison term followed by two-years of supervised release. 


Buress has said he has no one to blame but himself.  "Four or five years from now, down the road, I will look back on it and say I was reckless, I made a very bad decision and I am suffering major consequences from it,"


I am thinking Bureess’s realizations may come sooner than his four of five-year mark (he was just awarded two years of reflection time) and I am shocked it hasn’t dawned on him yet that he may have been acting a touch reckless.


Burress claims that club security knew he had a gun tucked into his sweatpants, or jeans according to Burress but not witnesses, when he entered the club.  While walking to the upper level of the club he felt the gun start to fall. 


While reaching for the gun he managed to grab it by the trigger.  Being a trigger to a gun, this caused a bullet to discharge in and through his leg. 


Burress says he did not know he was shot until he felt his pants were wet and saw blood rushing onto his Chuck Taylor shoes.  He then asked his friend and teammate, Antonio Pierce, to drive him to the hospital.  At the hospital he checked in under the creative alias, Harris Smith.


It has been reported that he and Pierce spent considerable time trying to find a hospital where the wound would be discreetly treated.  These must have been interesting conversations. 


“Yeah, I was just calling to see how much everyone there in the bullet wound fixing department would like some signed Giants jersey’s…. What’s that?  Oh you think that would be pretty cool.  Do you mean, like risking your job cool?  Probably not, hmm okay, um well… I am going to call some other hospitals, but theoretically is your job worth say, a super bowl ring…?  Oh it would be.  Okay, good to know.  I might call you back.  And by the way, this is definitely not Antonio Pierce or Plaxico Burress.”


After finding an agreeable hospital, Burress was able to leave without the incident being reported to the authorities.  As New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed out, "The police only found out about this because of a story on television.” 


Nice detective work.  Thanks to New York’s finest watching T.V. Burress will not be able to shoot himself again for at least two years.


The above-mentioned crimes have taught us some valuable lessons, but the learning is far from over.  The end result of these crimes is a good look into the role different states, intent and public perception have on the enforcement of laws. 


Vick’s punishment is by far the most severe of the three.  His premeditated and long-term actions resulted in the mistreatment and murder of countless dogs. 


Burress’s sentence is the next on the list of severity.  His premeditated actions resulted in him self-piercing his leg while wrecking a perfectly nice pair of sweats, or jeans, and sneakers. 


Stallworth’s punishment is the lightest.  His actions resulted in the loss of a life.  The life of a man who’s only crime, at the moment of his death, was jaywalking. 


Vick and Burress willfully committed their crimes.  While Stallworth knowingly drove drunk, he had no intention of killing anyone and, upon realizing the error of his ways, atoned for it the best he knew how.


"He acted like a man," Christopher Lyons, Stallworth’s attorney pointed out. "He remained at the scene. He cooperated fully."


Burress and Vick cannot say the same- they both tried their hardest to Nixon away their errors and have turned into the poster children for not committing their respective crimes.


"This is a significant moment in the history of animal cruelty prosecution,” Ed Sayres, president & CEO of the ASPCA publicly said, “and sends a clear message to criminals everywhere - that this kind of gross and barbaric cruelty to animals will not be tolerated.”


This is an opportunity for people to ride a wave of free publicity in order to increase awareness for their related causes.  I cannot blame them for this, but at the same time it is not fair to the people who committed the crimes.  This kind of public pressure is causing them to be held to elevated standards because of their celebrity status.


For years, people have bemoaned the un-fair treatment of celebrities, as they seemed to receive light punishments for their crimes.  That pendulum has swung. 

Defense teams, civil rights groups, and politicians have taken the chance to use the fame of a celebrity to further their causes. 

“I don't think that anybody should be exempt from that," Bloomberg said shortly after Burress’s arrest. "It would be an outrage if we don't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law." 

Bloomberg took this forum to further his agenda and public standing.  He wanted to appear tough on gun laws while making it a trademark of his term.  This created an environment that makes a fair trial for Burress unrealistic.

As for Stallworth, when and if he returns to the NFL, he is sure to do so under less scrutiny than Vick.  I wonder about our collective priorities at times.  I also wonder how far we have progressed when dealing with punishments. 


The NFL went for a pound of flesh.  Stallworth’s one-year suspension by the NFL is completely counterproductive.  I am not asking the NFL to ignore this issue, but I do not see who will benefit by this suspension. 


Why not allow Stallworth to play under his contract, at the time of the incident, and then donate a year’s salary to families who have lost loved ones as a result of drunk driving?  Or programs that help people defeat alcohol and drug abuse?


Who is really punished by Stallworth’s suspension?  The Browns and their fans, that’s who.  The unexpected loss of a team member reduces the odds Browns fans have to actually cheer on a winner.  I think we can all agree that they did not deserve any more punishment.


Had the NFL set-up a situation in which Stallworth was playing for charity it would have reduced if not erased any ill will facing the Browns for having Stallworth participating on the team.


Give Stallworth the chance to play.  This would allow him to continue to work and have millions of dollars end up in useful and deserved destinations.  This also lends Stallworth a positive outlet while trying to atone and turn a new leaf. 


Despite all the various factors attributing to the difference in the crimes each was charged with and the subsequent punishments for these crimes, it is hard for me to wrap my brain around the discrepancies in punishment severity. 


How does it make sense that the man, guilty of killing another man, receives a prison term that is 1/24th the length of a man who shot himself in the leg? 


How does a man guilty of abusing animals lose more than people who have abused humans?  


The way in which we treat celebrities reflects who and where we are as a society.  Among other things, these cases have shown us that:


The bigger the celebrity, the more we make of the issues they create.  Punishments have not reached rehabilitation or necessarily fit their crimes.  The mistreatment of animals is likely to create more of an outcry then the mistreatment of humans.  Public figures will take any chance they can get to enhance their image and agenda. 


I will never stop learning from the actions of athletes.  I have recently learned this is a mad, mad world and it is exercise to try and make sense of it all, an exercise in futility.