Burress saga just another sad tale

Another black athlete.

Another sad statistic.

There is no doubt some people will find that assertion offensive, especially those associated with Plaxico Burress. They will swear that is simply a bombastic way of feeding into the hype, condemning the Giants' star receiver before all the facts are revealed and lumping him into the same category as Michael Vick, Adam "Pacman" Jones or a host of other African-American athletes cuffed in broad daylight, booked into jail and faced with an impending court date instead of practice time with their team.

That is, right up until the moment those same folks are asked: Didn't he just get charged with two counts of criminal possession of a handgun? Where am I wrong?

To which they have no response.

The embarrassing and precarious set of circumstances Burress finds himself in clearly are not an indication of the behavior exhibited by most players of any color in the NFL, particularly African-Americans. The vast majority of NFL players have some sense.

And it's a fact that those who have displayed their idiotic ways have paid dearly for it -- in dollars and jail time. Yet Burress still managed to screw up by placing himself, literally, in the line of fire despite the body of evidence flashing in players' faces as a deterrent.

We've heard the story, but it's worth telling again: Burress, whose team had a game in Landover, Md., against the Redskins on Sunday afternoon, was out at a New York nightclub called the Latin Quarter in the wee hours Friday. Reportedly, he had alcohol in his possession, along with a loaded pistol, then accidentally shot himself in the right thigh.

Once he was deemed OK, he was arraigned Monday in a Manhattan criminal court and charged with two felony counts of criminal possession of a handgun. Burress did not enter a plea, but his lawyer says he will plead not guilty. Police are investigating what role Burress' teammate, Antonio Pierce, played in the incident. Also at issue is whether the hospital Burress checked into -- the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center -- failed to report the shooting.

(Oh, did I mention the nightclub where this all took place was merely a block from the NFL offices?)

Needless to say, the Giants are disgusted. They have fined Burress on more than 35 occasions in his career in New York, with penalties exceeding $300,000 for mere tardiness alone. Who knows what they'll do now?

There are members of the New York organization who spent Sunday saying: "Plax needs the Giants a helluva lot more than the Giants need him. You want to look out for him, but how much are we supposed to take?"

Then there are others who privately say: "The guy's had it rough for years, man. He lost his mom years ago, and he's never been the same. Everything's been downhill since he lost her. We think he just really needs some help."

Thing is, the Giants could say the same thing about themselves.

After catching 70 passes for 1,025 yards with 12 touchdowns last season in helping New York to a Super Bowl title, Burress has been a shell of himself this season. His numbers (35 catches, 454 yards, 4 touchdowns) are down. Worse, his downward spiral came after he signed a five-year, $35 million deal hours before the season opener -- weeks after haggling over his contract because he felt the Giants should have offered more guaranteed dollars.

Now we know why the Giants didn't.

Instead of being the model citizen every organization hopes for in its players, Burress has followed in the footsteps of far too many players who have marked African-American athletes in all the wrong ways.

LaDainian Tomlinson, Hines Ward, Marion Barber and a host of other black stars help the NFL shine brightly week after week. But they are not the faces that permeate our households once Sundays end and the real world waits.

Instead, there are names such as Pacman Jones (don't get me started), Larry Johnson (allegedly spitting a drink on a woman), Brandon Marshall (domestic violence warrant), Bryant McKinnie (street brawl), Fred Evans (marijuana possession), Chris Henry (numerous arrests), Tank Johnson (probation violation on gun charge) and others.

All of them black. All of them on the police blotter. All stigmatized as prima donnas unappreciative of their stature.

The one individual among the bunch due in court who happens to be white is Jacksonville Jaguars wideout Matt Jones, who faces a possible suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He was arrested and charged with one count of cocaine possession in July. Who knows, that might be more a weakness than a crime.

There's no reason to believe Burress will be that lucky.

For one, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn't think Burress should be cut any slack.

"I don't think anybody should be exempt," Bloomberg said as he called for enforcement of the state law that requires mandatory prison for carrying a loaded handgun. "And I think it would be an outrage if we didn't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law. Particularly people who live in the public domain, making their living because of their visibility -- they're the role models for our kids."

By most accounts, Burress fits that billing. Most people who know him describe him as kind, sensitive and giving. They say he's a man who should be recognized more for his commitment to family than for his practice habits similar to Allen Iverson's.

Perhaps we'll see more evidence of that in the future. Right now, all anyone sees is another black athlete arrested over avoidable nonsense.

I know a few people sick and tired of this.

One of them wrote this damn column.

Stephen A. Smith is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.