Recreation and Sport Studies

Studying, Experiencing and Facilitating Kinesiology, Recreation and Sport through Wellness and Physical Activity

Case Study: Revisiting Guns and Professional Athletes in 2009


Lavelle argues that both the reinterpretation of Burress & Arenas’ after their respective gun controversies shows that the image of a black athlete who has risen from rough circumstances is one that is easily tarnished at the hands of the media when they are accused of a firearm related crime.

Both Arenas and Burress were seen as “safe” before their criminal cases, yet afterwards, they have morphed into threats. “Looking at these two cases together demonstrates how the presence of weapons changes the tone of rhetoric that attempts to make sense of criminal charges against athletes.” [Lavelle, 2014]

plaxico-burressOn Aug. 3, 2009, Burress was indicted by the grand jury on two counts of second degree criminal possession of a weapon and a single count of second degree reckless endangerment. On Aug. 20, 2009, Burress accepted a plea deal that sentenced him to two years in prison with an additional two years of supervised release. After his release he went on to play for the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers. [Herman, 2009]

Plaxico Burress was raised by his single mother in a rough neighbourhood. His navigation through the temptations of crime and drugs to superstardom is exemplary of the American dream. However, Burress’s upbringing in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood was not without its lasting effe
cts on his demeanour. He made borderline unwarranted public claims to owning guns for home protection long before 1acoverround3-4_3.jpgthe night he accidentally shot himself in the leg with an illegally concealed, unregistered pistol in a New York Club. [Lavelle, 2014]

On Nov. 28, 2008 Plaxcio Burress, who was playing for the New York Giants at the time, accidentally shot himself in the leg while partying at a Manhattan nightclub. After being released from the hospital the next day for the non-threatening injury, Burress turned himself into the police to face charges of criminal possession of a handgun. [Herman, 2009]

“Burress’s job and freedom were in jeopardy in the aftermath of the shooting. He was cut by the Giants and forfeited the $27 million left on his contract” [Teitelbaum, 2010]. “While Burress may still be working to rehabilitate his public image, he does have a contract and plays for an NFL team. His initial steps might be rocky, he has the opportunity to rehabilitate himself on the field.” [Lavelle, 2014]

XXX 791.JPG SPO BKN USA PAPHILADELPHIA – JANUARY 5: Gilbert Arenas #0 of the Washington Wizards gestures in the huddle with teammates before the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 5, 2010 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) (Via MerlinFTP Drop) [Garrabrant, Jesse D. 2010]

Gilbert Arenas was raised by his single father in an impoverished neighbourhood.”Time and time again Arenas was faced with an incredible amount of adversary and was able to overcome professional disappointments to become an NBA superstar and a staple in the philanthropy community of Washington.” [Lavelle, 2014]

In December 2009, Gilbert Arenas had brought four guns of his own to the locker room in an attempt to ittimediate after a dispute over a card game with Crittenton . Two days later Javaris Crittenton pointed a loaded gun at teammate Arenas in the locker room right before a team practice.

“Former teammate of both Arenas and Crittenton, Caron Butler gave provided a first hand account of their fight  in a tell all biography released in 2015. Arenas was well-known for pranking teammates but one time he ended up taking it too far.” [Steinberg, 2015].

51rrb1sehal-_sx331_bo1204203200_-2Below is an excerpt of the incident between Crittenton & Arenas from Caron Butler’s book:

Arenas: “Put the money back. Put the (expletive) money back.”

Crittenton: “I ain’t putting (expletive) back.”

Arenas: “I’ll see your (expletive) at practice and you know what I do,”

Crittenton: “What the (expletive) you mean, you know what I do?”

Arenas: “I play with guns.”

Crittenton: “Well I play with guns, too.”

After the next team practice Gilbert stood in front of his two locker stalls, with four guns on display. Javaris was standing in front of his own stall, his back to Gilbert.

“Hey, MF, come pick one,” Gilbert told Javaris while pointing to the weapons.

“I’m going to shoot your (expletive) with one of these.”

“Oh no, you don’t need to shoot me with one of those,” said Javaris, turning around slowly like a gunslinger in the Old West. “I’ve got one right here.” He pulled out his own gun, already loaded, cocked it, and pointed it at Arenas. Butler was able to talk Crittenton down and Arenas was able to leave the locker room unharmed. [Butler, Bryant, & Springer, 2015]2827CDE700000578-3061904-image-a-77_1430367037496.jpg

Crittenton would be sentenced to 23 years in prison two years later for killing mother of four Julian Jones using a high-powered rifle in an event unrelated to Arenas altercation [Garner, 2014].

During that two year time spand before Crittenton went to jail for murder, “Gilbert Arenas was stripped of his NBA superstar status and coped plea deals for probation and returned to the league eventually.” [Lavelle, 2014]

There are multiple accounts of accusations made against professional athletes that were much worse than Arenas’s actions, such as violence against women. “These charges did not result in jail time or significant suspensions from play, while Arenas was in danger of a voided contract and indefinite suspensions” [Wilbon, 2010].

“The prevalence of weapons among Black men to “solve” problems are frequently criticized (Grainger, Newman, & Andrews, 2006) and many NBA players who grew up in rough neighbourhoods are thought to possess these views about guns as a solution.” [Lane, 2007].


Butler, C., Bryant, K., & Springer, S. (2015). Tuff juice: My journey from the streets to the NBA.

Garner, M. K. (2014, January 15). Former NBA player Javaris Crittenton back in jail. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from

Garrabrant, Jesse D. (Jesse D.Garrabrant). (January 5 2010). Gilbert Arenas [Gilbert Arenas]. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NBAE via Getty Images.

Grainger, A., Newman, J. & Andrews, D. L. (2006). Sport, the media, and the construction of race. In A. A. Raney & J. Bryant (Eds), Handbook of sports and media, (pp. 447-467).Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Herman, Marc A. (Marc A. Herman). (Aug. 20 2009). Plaxico Buress [Plaxico Burress]. New York, New York. NY Daily News.

Lavelle, K. L. (2014). Chapter 14 “Guns Are No Joke: Framing Plaxico Burress, Gilbert Arenas, and Gunplay in Professional Sports” In L. A. Wenner (Ed.), Fallen sports heroes, media, and celebrity culture (pp. 179-189). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Lane, J. (2007). Under the boards: The cultural revolution in basketball. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Steinberg, D. (2010, January 7). A history of Gilbert’s practical jokes. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

Steinberg, D. (2015, October 7). ‘I play with guns’: Caron Butler’s inside account of the Gilbert Arenas gun incident. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from

Teitelbaum, S. H. (2010). Athletes who indulge their dark side: Sex, drugs, and coverups. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Wilbon, M. (2010a , January 14) & (201ob, January 16). Let’s not erase Arenas. The Washington Post, p. Do1. Retrieved from http://

2 thoughts on “Case Study: Revisiting Guns and Professional Athletes in 2009

  1. To elaborate on your point of, “There are multiple accounts of accusations made against professional athletes that were much worse than Arena’s actions, such as violence against women.” (Wilbon,2010). I look to analyze why it seems as though “black athletes” are the ones to struggle with suspensions and criminal charges. Is it due to the fact of their cultural upbringing? Many African American athletes successfully break the standard mold that is created for them when born into a dangerous neighborhood. Unfortunately, I feel that since they are around it for almost the entirety of their life witnessing certain things becomes a normality. Observing an individual walk down the street with a gun was most likely an everyday occurrence for most.

    What is the reason for carrying a weapon or assaulting someone? Could it be the fact that they have witnessed it before and were unable to stop or aid in anyway? Now that they are successful and have money they may have the “unstoppable” feeling. They are rich and they “can” have a gun because they want one. Maybe they believe they need protection against someone from their past. Or, maybe seeing it every day growing up was something that a person had who was in “charge” of their life. A certain representation to say the least.

    I am curious about the correlation between on-field violence and off-field violence. Ronald B. Woods stated, “Common sense suggests that people who become accustomed to using physical intimidation and violence in sport naturally revert to those behaviors when facing conflict outside of sport. Athletes who hang out at bars, restaurants, or clubs are often targets for other tough guys, who bait them with insults and disrespect.” (Woods). Athlete may feel as though their manhood is being challenged and want to respond in a certain way. For a NFL player if an opponent was humiliating them they would just deal with it the next play with a big hit or scoring. Yet, when you are not in the game and someone is disrespecting you is the automatic reaction violence. That’s what you were taught or that is what you get paid the big bucks.

    Woods, R. B. (n.d.). Does on-field violent behavior lead to off-field violence? Human Kinetics. Retrieved November 1, 2016, from


    • Thank you for your insights Sarah, you brought some great questions to further think about. I feel as though you have provided intelligent content to your analyzing of why it seems “black athletes” are the ones to struggle with suspensions and criminal charges.

      I appreciate that you brought the causation of carrying a weapon or assaulting someone into question. I agree with you that the “unstoppable” feeling plays a factor in some situations facing athletes, especially those with a checkered past.

      Another point I’d like to bring up is the media’s role in the conversation. What presented to us is factual evidence and what is racially charged tripe? “Racism is much more complex than we like to imagine. It’s more than a word; it’s a system that is backed up money, politics and the criminal justice system. We live in a country where when media pundits called U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte, a 32-year-old man, a “kid,” for lying about his brotastic experience at the Rio Olympics, but a Cleveland police officer can kill Tamir Rice for doing just that – being a kid. A country where Kaepernick is deemed as being unpatriotic, for exercising his constitutional right to freedom of speech, but Dylann Roof can burn the American flag and walk into an A.M.E. church and murder people.” (Moore, 2016)

      Using Colin Kaepernick again to further the conversation I hope to gauge your curiosity about the correlation between on-field violence and off-field violence. “Since Kaepernick’s public stance, he’s turned into Public Enemy Number One, but he’s also exposing this vicious cycle. His stance has made more people stand up and ask, exactly, why he’s having his feet held to the fire for exercising his American right to protest and free speech. Black athletes and black sports analyst are often told to “stick to sports” when they venture out of the comfort zone of white male Americana. “(Moore, 2016). Kaepernick’s stance against police brutality towards black men has impacts on violence both on field and off field, players on opposing teams all have their own views on the subject and so do millions of police officers across the unites states. Players on opposing teams may feel disrespected that he is kneeling during the anthem and resort to added physical violence when playing Kaepernick’s team. Police officers in the united states may also resort to violence quicker when dealing with an African American suspect in comparison to a caucasian suspect because of Kaepernick’s contribution to the zeitgeist of the aforementioned controversy which already has caused tension between African Americans and non African Americans in the USA.

      Moore, E. (2016, August 31). Colin Kaepernick and what white fans don’t get about black athletes. Retrieved November 28, 2016, from Sports,


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