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Plaxico Burress pens important message to NFL rookies

Ex-Giant tells his story in The Players’ Tribune

New York Giants v Arizona Cardinals
Plaxico Burress
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Plaxico Burress has experienced the high of catching a Super Bowl-winning touchdown pass for the New York Giants, and the low of spending nearly two years incarcerated after shooting himself in a New York City nightclub. Burress has now used those experiences to pen an important letter to NFL rookies in The Players’ Tribune.

Here are a few excerpts.

On learning to handle money ...

“You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to lose money in a bad investment or give money to somebody you shouldn’t. Almost everybody does. Which is why you need to take it upon yourself to learn about how money works and how business works.

Don’t expect somebody else to teach you.

When the Steelers drafted me, they basically handed $5.5 million to a kid who had never even had a bank account. I came from the hood. I didn’t know anything about money or how it worked. I thought that when I got to the NFL, somebody would teach me about money and about business.

I could put a condom on a banana, but I still didn’t know how to write a check.

But nobody did.

I went to the rookie symposium with all the other rookies, and people came in and talked to us about finances and how to act like a pro and all that. But they also had us put condoms on bananas — no lie, they brought out baskets of bananas and baskets of condoms, like it was an eighth-grade health class. It felt like they spent more time teaching us about STDs and how to conduct ourselves in public than about how to protect ourselves from scams, risky investments and other financial dangers.

After the symposium, I could put a condom on a banana, but I still didn’t know how to write a check.”

Plaxico Burress turning himself in to police in 2008. Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

On the shooting incident ...

“Looking back, I realize that carrying a gun gave me a false sense of security. I thought I was protecting myself when, as it turned out, I was doing the opposite.

When we got to the club, I got patted down at the door, and the security guard lifted my shirt up and saw my gun tucked into my belt. He was like, ‘O.K., if you’re gonna carry a gun, we gotta be with you the whole night.’

I said, ‘A’ight, cool.’

So they let me through the metal detector and into the club.

My friends and I stood at the bar for like five minutes, and the place was packed wall to wall. The security guy suggested we go upstairs, where we could get a table and chill and it wouldn’t be so crazy. So we did, and he led the way.

The stairway was narrow and dark and everything was black. I had a drink in my left hand and I was walking right behind the security guard. The music was loud and I could feel the bass thumping the stairs under my feet. But I could barely see and I guess missed a step and my foot slipped. My gun came unhooked from my belt and went sliding down my right pant leg. My instant reaction was to catch it before it hit the floor, and I reached down with my right hand to grab it. And I guess my finger hit right on the trigger, because it went off.”

On being incarcerated ...

"I went from being an NFL superstar to basically being put in a cage for 17 hours a day. I cried so many nights that I lost count. I thought about all the playground legends from my hood who were better athletes than me, but they stayed in the hood doing the same things they had always done, smoking the same things they had always smoked and getting caught up in that life.

But not me. I got out. I earned my way out. I had worked my whole life to get to where I was, and I threw it all away with one stupid decision. Now I was serving food in the prison cafeteria, mopping floors and cleaning toilets.

That puts things into perspective.

If you take one thing away from reading this, I think it should be that you’re not as special as you think you are. You’re not more important than anybody else just because you play in the NFL.”

On what he would change if he could ...

“ ... would I change anything?

Hell yeah, I would.

I wouldn’t have shot myself in the damn leg. I wouldn’t have even gone home to get my gun that night. I would have known the laws on carrying a gun in NYC. I would have been smarter.

I can live with having lost some money because I trusted the wrong people, or because I wasn’t educated enough on how money and business worked. I learned some lessons the hard way, and that’s O.K. But at the end of the day, I lost two years of playing the game I love when I was in my prime. I lost millions of dollars. I lost valuable time with my wife and children. I even missed the birth of my daughter, who was born while I was in prison. I basically lost everything all because of one stupid decision.

And a lot of what I lost, I’ll never get back.”

My advice to you at this point? Go and read the whole article. It’s worth your time. And, if you’re one of those NFL rookies? Take Burress’s words to heart and don’t repeat his mistakes.