“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.
“But Nobody did”.
The words above were written by former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who came to the team via the draft in 2000 when he was selected eighth-overall. Burress finished out his four-year rookie contract with the Steelers before cashing in during free agency with the Giants, where he would later win a Super Bowl.
But while his career on the field was filled with high points, including 553 career receptions for 8499 yards and 64 touchdowns—even a late second stint with the Steelers following a complete derailment of his career for a couple of years—he knows about as well as any professional athlete how hard one can fall when given such freedom and opportunity without knowing how to handle it.
That is why Burress took to the proverbial pulpit recently and penned an article published yesterday for The Players’ Tribune, in which he laid out his own story as a cautionary tale for the incoming rookie class, advising them that he won’t be telling them how great they are or how to spend their money.
“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”, he wrote. “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”.
Think about that. The message the league was sending them, at least back in 2000, was geared more toward the public image of the NFL rather than protecting the players themselves. As long as they’re not embarrassments, it doesn’t really matter how their life is going off the field, does it?
As shouldn’t be surprising, Burress also recounted the lowest point of his life following the draft: the nightclub incident in which he incidentally shot himself, and for which he ultimately spent time in prison for criminal possession of a weapon.
“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”, he said after his arrest. “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”.
The lesson he wants the incoming rookies to take away from all this? Essentially, educate yourself, and be your own advocate, because nobody else is going to do it for you, not without an end for themselves in mind.
Family members that he paid bills for and pulled out of debt, out of the ghetto, he stopped hearing from them. At least until a couple of months before he would be released in prison, essentially asking for tickets when he gets back into the league.
“Would they be there for me if I was broke, or if I wasn’t in the NFL?”
That is the question he says the young players of today should be asking themselves.
There are a lot of regrets for Burress when he looks back on his career. “I wouldn’t have shot myself in the damn leg”, he said, for starters. “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”. He hopes to be the voice of reason for those about to walk the same path he set out on 17 years ago.