August 2, 2009
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brad-eastlandby Brad Eastland, the Sports Philosopher


      This column has it all.  

      All the makings of a made-for-TV movie.   Guns, gambling, graft, cruelty to animals, and, of course, sex.

      Now that I have your attention….

      ….I was just wondering.   I’m on the warpath, as my late mother used to say.   I was wondering if, in this magnificent and still-young experiment we call America, our professional athletes—and our politicians, for that matter—are simply more likely to be bad people than the rest of us….are they?   Or just more likely to be mindnumbingly stupid than the rest of us.   Because I’m convinced that there’s no third possibility.

      What got me to thinking was the Plaxico Burress case.   In case you’ve already forgotten him, Plaxico Burress, former New York Giants wide receiver and Super Bowl hero, is the genius who in November of 2008 brought a loaded gun to and into a New York City nightclub (which is illegal even in New York, by the way, in case you weren’t sure), and then proceeded to accidentally shoot himself in the leg.   At least I’m assuming it was accidental.   With Plaxico, you never know.

      Anyway, Plaxico is in the news again this week, because his case for criminal possession of a loaded and unlicensed weapon is currently coming to a head, and it looks like, at minimum, that Plaxico will be spending at least a year of the rest of his shattered life in jail.   Poor Plaxico.

      (It should be obvious by now that during this column I am going to say ‘Plaxico’ as many times as I possibly can, Plaxico being easily the most ridiculous name I can ever remember anyone ever assigning to another human being.   Plus, it’s fun.   Try it.   Plaxico Plaxico Plaxico….)

Plaxico, Plaxico, Plaxico

Plaxico, Plaxico, Plaxico

      Putting aside Plaxico for a moment, let’s put some other examples of unconscionable, hard-to-believe behavior on the table.   Let’s really explore this bad people vs. stupid people theme.   Michael Vick, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback, went to jail for two years for running a dog fighting business where dogs were routinely tortured and killed (illegal just about everywhere, in case you weren’t sure),he just got out, and is looking for a job; Mike needing a job these days, being $100-million dollars poorer from losing his previous job and it’s attendant long-term contract and endorsements.   Steve McNair, another former quarterback, was murdered recently, paying the ultimate penalty for living a double life and cheating on his wife.   A very tragic case, obviously.   McNair by all previous accounts was a wonderful guy, generous with kids and a pillar of his community, and obviously nobody deserves what he got.   Yet still he found himself compelled to cheat—rather publicly—on his stunningly beautiful and loyal wife of 15 years, and then apparently, in a classic made-for-TV-movie twist, was killed by the mistress when the mistress caught him cheating on her with another mistress.   But no need to pick exclusively on football players.   Baseball hit king Pete Rose violated his sport’s #1 rule, do not bet on baseball games under any circumstances, did it for over 15 years, sometimes bet as much as $10,000 per day, lied about all of it, arrogantly and openly scorned and ridiculed his accusers year after year to the delight of his millions of pathetically loyal fans (Rose’s various other transgressions, by the way, include cheating on his wife, being a chronically bad father, and spending time in the Big House for income tax evasion), he got caught, was banned from baseball for life, and finally confessed, and of course pretended to apologize, in order to get his lifetime ban from baseball lifted and then get into the Hall of Fame.   As of this writing, baseball commissioner Bud Selig is reportedly considering doing just that.   Maybe crime does pay.   I think the Rose case makes a strong argument for the bad people theory winning out over the stupid people theory.   It has amazed me for years just how ridiculously popular this serial jerk is, just because he and his bad haircut used to run to first base after a walk….

      A quick segue, for purposes of comparison, to politics.

      Uber-politicians share one relevant trait with the kind of big-time athletes we are discussing here.   Their huge success and lofty positions tend to ingrain in them a feeling of supreme entitlement, the notion that nothing in the world is, for them, off limits or out of bounds.   Which then in turn, of course, makes them either really bad or really stupid.   See how this works?   Take this guy Mark what’s-his-name, the governor of South Carolina.   As my late mother would say, this guy’s got a lotta nerve!   It’s bad enough that he’s going down to South America to cavort with his mistress, but to stick the good and trusting taxpayers of South Carolina with the bill for the plane flights???   Sounds to me like a guy with balls like grapefruits, in more ways than one.   Bad person?   Or just a mindnumbingly stupid person.   That is the question, as the bard was wont to say.

      Which brings us, finally, to the guy with the biggest balls of them all: Billy don’t-be-silly-it’s-just-my-slick-willy Clinton.  

      It’s been over ten years now, and I still can’t quite believe that the President of the United States managed to induce, seduce, recruit, augur, and otherwise gently entreat a young girl in her 20s to regularly perform oral sex on him in the Oval Office.   Man.   I hope as a society we are never sufficiently jaded and numb to that kind of news that when we hear it, or even merely reflect on it, we’re not shocked out of our gourds.   Makes what that South Carolina governor guy did seem pretty tame, huh?   He shouldn’t feel bad.   Clinton has simply had more practice.   For instance, he had an impossible-to-deny affair going with that Gennifer Flowers lady for twelve years but denied it anyway (my god, he’s fearless), until he got caught doing the Lewinsky thing and then, in a weak moment perhaps, he admitted it.   Sort of.  

      What Clinton did, of course, was far worse than what the other guys listed above did.   And not just because he was the president and we deserved better.   What was criminal about what Clinton did was that he used the power of the Presidency to obstruct justice in the Lewinsky case, not so much to cover up the shame and arrogance and tarnish of it, but rather to keep it from weakening him in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, thereby denying Paula Jones her rightful day in court.   I’ll go to my grave believing that, as will a heck of a lot of other people.   Bill Clinton should not have been allowed to continue as President, in my humble (though overwhelmingly in the minority) opinion….    

      (Clinton later agreed to pay Jones $850,000 for stopping talking about what he denied doing.   Jones later lost a boxing match to figure skater Tonya Harding.   Cool.)       

      The argument against getting all bent out of shape when one of these luminaries is caught being either bad or mindnumbingly stupid—and I can almost hear some of you getting ready to say it—goes something like “They’re just people, just like us.   If they weren’t famous, no one would notice, it would be no big deal.   They’re just getting caught doing what regular people do all the time.”

      Oh really???

      Let’s find out.   Let’s see if these are the things “regular” people do.   I’m talking to each and every one of you individually now.   Do you personally know anyone who routinely got a hummer in his business office, from an employee 30 years his junior, and then when caught expected to keep his job?   And did?   Do you know anyone who bet hundreds of thousands of dollars on sporting events over a 15-year period even though it was prohibited by his employer, then lied about it, then confessed, and expected it to be all right with most folks?   And it was?   Do you know anyone who regularly took long plane flights paid for by people he worked for so that he could secretly jump into bed with his mistress, and lied about where he was all those times, and then expected to keep his job?  And has?   (Seriously, I need someone to write in and explain to me how come that South Carolina governor guy still has his job.…)   Do you know anyone who is rich beyond belief, yet bankrolled and masterminded a ruthless dog fighting enterprise which could not have possibly benefitted his finances to any significant degree, but whose love of a “sport” where animals entertain their fans by tearing each other to ribbons compelled him to do it anyway?   Know anyone like that, do ya?   Do you know any so-called happily married men who care so little about concealing their affair with their 20-year-old mistress that pictures of the two of them vacationing together are easily retrievable on the Internet, and who actually maintained an apartment for their trysts?   And then went ahead and cheated on the one he cheated with in the first place?   And finally, do you personally know anyone who ever shot himself in the leg with a pistol???

      Wait.   Actually, now that I think about it, I myself do know someone who once shot himself in the leg with a pistol.   My cousin Kirk.   He lives in Washington state.   He was a teenager then.   He was practicing his quick-draw.   Kirk always was a little bit weird, though, bless his little quick-drawing heart, and I submit he’s merely the hysterical exception which proves the rule.   And he didn’t commit any great crimes in perforating himself, other than getting my beloved and occasionally fiery Aunt Toots mad at him, no small mistake I assure you.   But he broke no laws.   He endangered no lives, save his own.   He’s no Plaxico.   (I just this second decided that the next few times I see Kirk I am going to refer to him as ‘Plaxico’, for all the obvious reasons.)

      My point is that only the rich and mighty commit such enormous offenses, with little or nothing possible in it for them in return.   But why???   Why take chances this titanic with nothing commensurate to gain if successful?   Are they bad people or just stupid people? 

      (How should I know?   I’m no oracle, people.   I’m just the guy who, hopefully, makes you laugh and think at the same time once in awhile.   I don’t have answers.   Just gimme credit for asking the right questions.)

      And so, in closing, we come full circle back to Plaxico.   The man lost everything.   Lost his job as a starting wide receiver on a championship football team.   Lost his $10-million dollar a year income for playing that splendid child’s game he loves so much.   Lost any chance at commercial endorsement deals, forever.   Ruined his reputation and good name, forever.   And now he is about to lose his freedom.

      And for what?   For nothing!   I can understand it if a guy is trying to rob a bank.   At least if you get away with it you got a bag full of money.   The risk is arguably worth the gamble.   But Burress had nothing to gain by bringing that loaded pistol to that nightclub!   He had nothing whatsoever to gain, and everything in his world to lose!   So then why did he do it?   Does he think he’s Wyatt Earp?   Is it all about “street cred”?   Does he equate guns with cool?   Did his parents forget to teach him anything about, you know, the world?   Did he do it simply because he could, figuring that catching a few footballs somehow indemnified him against any consequences whatsoever, and oh by the way it just feels so good having a semi-automatic Glock stuck down your pants?   Or, gee willakers, people, are we overlooking the obvious? – namely, was there possibly someone at that nightclub that night that Plaxico actually wanted to shoot???

      Bad person or just mindnumbingly stupid person?

      Because there’s no third possibility.

      I’m on the warpath, Mom….

The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, and sports nut, in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below :




  1. STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES by Brad Eastland, The Sports Philosopher
  2. The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “Don’t let the door hit you (or your ‘Plaxico’) on your way out.” by Brad Eastland
  3. The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “Too bad ‘The Melky’ or ‘The Chad’ doesn’t have the same sweet ring as ‘The Plaxico’…by Brad Eastland

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