Gilbert Arenas a Bad Guy?: It's Hard to Imagine

Major ClausenContributor IJanuary 7, 2010

PHOENIX - DECEMBER 19:  Gilbert Arenas #0 of the Washington Wizards during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on December 19, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Wizards 121-95. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In the grand scheme of things, what Gilbert Arenas is accused of doing is not the worst thing in the history of mankind, nor the NBA.

He kept guns in his own locker at the Verizon Center, and allegedly left four of them in teammate Javaris Crittenton’s locker with a note reading “Pick one,” before Crittenton loaded a gun of his own and had a brief exchange with the All Star guard.

Arenas then found humor in the situation through comments on his Twitter page and by pretending to shoot his fellow Wizards in the moments proceeding their game against Philadelphia on Tuesday.

He did not actually fire a weapon (see Stephen Jackson), nor kill a fellow human being with one (see Jayson Williams).

Because of that, it is tough for me to get riled up about the incident like some sports writers have, or politicize it like Al Sharpton has done.

To say that Arenas is insensitive towards families in the Washington D.C. area that have been affected by gun violence, or that it is unacceptable to ever joke about guns may be correct, but in this situation it is also too narrow-minded.

I have no doubt that Arenas knows about Washington D.C.’s high-crime rate and the fact that many families around the world have been torn apart by gun violence.

I’m sure that he keeps up with what happens in Washington, as he not only is the founder of a charity which helps the area, but also comes across as an extremely bright and artistic individual. His past blog entries and unique ability to promote himself indicate this, as well as how he has conducted himself with members of the media and fans in the past.

Arenas’ antics were meant solely for Crittenton, but were soon shared with the entire world through the media. 

He would have probably done a plethora of things differently if he had known what the outcome of his actions would be, just like Plaxico Burress would have not possessed a gun if he knew that it would get him a prison sentence.

Both Arenas, Burress and potentially Crittenton are just the latest in a long line of athletes to make significant mistakes, and they certainly won’t be the last.

But the thing that upsets me the most about the Arenas situation is the fact that he was, and still is, a man who had a unique ability to bond with fans.

He has given a lucky fan his jersey after games, revealed himself as a colorful individual in interviews, and talked of his fondness for playing Halo on Xbox Live.

And he also corresponded with fans through his blog (which was deleted sometime ago) and Twitter page.

Arenas has never come across as an athlete like Tiger Woods or Michael Phelps who rely on a P.R. quarterback sheet to inflate their image and guard what they say, but instead as a man with a unique personality who was wiling to share it with fans.

Perhaps it is Arenas’ lack of P.R. handlers that caused his indefinite suspension and inability to comprehend how others viewed his errors in judgment.

The sad thing is that both fans and sports writers need more athletes like the pre-gun incident Arenas, athletes who want us to see that they are interesting and have lives outside of the game.

Arenas may have taken this to an inappropriate extreme both in the present and the past, but I have always appreciated his sincerity. 

And an even sadder thing is that Arenas is now being labeled as a thug by many individuals who know very little about him.

NBA fans know that Arenas is far from a thug through how he has conducted himself on and off the court and from his work in the Washington D.C. area (he established the Zero Two Hero Foundation in 2005 which has aided schools and children in the D.C. area, as well as Hurricane Katrina victims).

I don’t think of a thug when I see Arenas on TV, and this incident hasn’t changed my mind.

Nobody benefits from an NBA without Arenas, and the public may have been safer when Maurice Clarett went to jail in 2006, but I don’t think that that will be the case if Arenas ends up behind bars.   

Arenas is now just another athlete who made a bad decision and has to deal with the consequences of it, and deservedly so.

But we need to judge his whole character before labeling him as a lawless thug, with that label based on one incredibly stupid decision that by all accounts was not intended to harm anybody.

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