Head down, eyes focused on the ground, Plaxico Burress swayed back and forth like a receiver in the huddle waiting for the next play.
He wasn’t on a football field, hasn’t been on one for more than two years. Burress was listening to an introduction at the National Urban League before he spoke his piece. When the time came, Burress couldn’t have been more positive about rehabilitating his image.
“I’m a champion on the field, and my goal is to be a champion in life and off the field,” he said.
Burress, released from prison last week after spending nearly two years in jail on a weapon possession charge, will work with the National Urban League and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The 33-year-old former New York Giant and Pittsburgh Steeler said Monday he will be mentored by Magic Johnson and Tony Dungy. He’ll volunteer at Urban League youth programs and recruit other pro athletes to the program, and he’ll speak out for gun control.
“I’m eager and excited about the next step, not knowing where it will be,” he said. “I’m dedicated to change and just being a better person.”
The next step on the field is anyone’s guess, thanks to the lockout. Burress and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, can’t speak to any teams about the free agent receiver.
The next moves away from football will be making appearances through the Urban League to speak with youngsters about where Burress went wrong and how they can avoid similar failures. Burress has pledged to devote 30 hours to help fight childhood obesity, promote mental and physical health and fitness, all in keeping with terms of probation.
Burress also will lecture on the dangers of owning or carrying a firearm. The Brady Center is the nation’s largest public interest organization dedicated to ending gun violence in this country. The center pressed for him to go to prison but ended up supporting his ultimately unsuccessful efforts to get work release last year.
“I made a bad decision and it all can be taken away from you so quick,” Burress said at the Urban League headquarters on Wall Street. “You have to be cognizant of every decision you make and what impact it can have.”
Dungy has helped Michael Vick after the quarterback served 16 months in a federal prison for his role in a dogfighting ring. He visited with Burress when the player was incarcerated, and Dungy readily agreed to serve as a mentor for Burress when asked.
Dungy believes Burress gained perspective doing hard time the past two years.
“I don’t think playing football is the most important thing for him, although he wants to play,” the Super Bowl-winning coach with the Indianapolis Colts said. “I think family and contributing to (society) and making a difference in a positive way is very important to Plaxico.”
Burress caught the winning touchdown in the 2008 Super Bowl. Nine months later, his unlicensed handgun accidentally went off in a Manhattan nightclub, striking his thigh.
He said he would tell other players: “If you’re going to carry a weapon, make sure you’ve done everything properly, that you’re obeying all the laws or the rules of that state, and you know fully how to operate the weapon if you choose to carry one.”
Owning a firearm has become the norm in the NFL. Dungy, who retired after the 2008 season, recalled that at the first meeting of every training camp, he would ask how many players owned weapons. As many as 90 percent would raise their hands.
“That’s the society we live in,” he said. “They feel they have to get a gun to protect themselves or because everyone else is doing it. That doesn’t need to be the situation.”
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