Pro Athletes And The Perception Of Guns

The issue of athletes and guns is as compelling as it is polarizing. As soon as news of an athlete possessing guns in any alleged criminal case surfaces, social media is abuzz with bountiful generalizations chastising athlete behavior.  

It’s telling that Raymond Felton hasn’t been charged with pointing a gun at his estranged wife’s face. That being said, until facts of the case are known, everything said about the case is speculative at best. What is your perception of athletes and guns? Should athletes own guns? Is race a factor in how you view athletes and guns? Do you own a gun?

Felton should have known better considering the strict gun laws in New York, and he's facing jail time if convicted

Though it’s a hollow and lazy point, many will compare his case to that of Plaxico Burress, who served two years for accidentally shooting himself in a Manhattan nightclub in 2008.

In the aftermath, Burress was made a public example by then New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and there was essentially no way Burress was getting off despite not injuring anyone but himself. That enough should have made every athlete in the country make sure their guns were registered, learn the laws of every state or get rid of them altogether.

Many use these instances to criticize every athlete as if every athlete was a criminal, when it’s fairly obvious the lot of athletes are law-abiding citizens. When it was erroneously reported that Felton pointed a gun at his estranged wife, the conversation shifted and despite authorities stating that Felton wasn't charged with threatening her, the damage in the court of public opinion had been done.

Athletes are then lumped into a generalized category of dumb jocks (or worse), having no business possessing firearms. Fans and media point to the money pro athletes earn and public celebrity as reasons why they would be stupid to even consider owning a gun. Pro league commissioners are swift to protect the brand and, more than likely, punishment is handed out simply to ease public disdain and set precedent. 

Commissioners do have a quandary on their hands regarding gun ownership and how it’s viewed by a general public who is, in most instances, devoid of context.  Is gun ownership for athletes about crime, or protection?

NBA players have been robbed about twice that of the national average, so it’s understandable why NBA athletes in particular choose to possess weapons.  Numerous cases like Eddy Curry tied up and robbed in his Chicago home, Antoine Walker also robbed in Chicago, Jamaal Tinsley shot at after leaving an Indianapolis hotel night club, Quentin Richardson's brother murdered in a robbery attempt in front of his father or Stephon Marbury having his chain snatched while sitting in a car support an athlete case for gun ownership. Do athletes get in more trouble vs. every day citizens?

5.1 percent of NBA players are charged with crime vs. a 4.2 national average (2010 numbers). So yes, according to those numbers the average is slightly higher but not much to knee-jerk some sort of broad-based indictment on NBA athletes. Of course, there is always the bizarre supporting the stereotype.

As was the case of Gilbert Arenas bringing 4 guns into the Washington Wizards locker room over a bet and disagreement with his former teammate Javaris Crittenton. Arenas was suspended for 50 games by NBA Commissioner David Stern. It was a suspension and stigma in the aftermath that essentially ended a very promising pro career – injuries notwithstanding.

In talking to sports agent Leigh Steinberg about athlete crime from now compared to when he entered the business 40 years ago, he says this: “The truth of the matter is athletes are actually better behaved than they were when I started. They use alcohol less; they use drugs less; they’re less domestic violence, but, in the public perception there’d be more. And the reason for that is that we now have an omniscient press. We have talk radio, internet, and blogs and newspapers all dedicated to jurisprudence and athletes’ misbehavior. We’ll see the same and video or the same mention over and over and over again. It was bad enough for Michael Vick and what he did with dogs, but by the three or four weeks that passed, the average person had seen that story at least 50 times and it leads to a believe that all players do these things all the time and it’s simply not true. If you compare athletes and remember we’re including coaches, retired athletes, and present athletes. So that’s a huge base of people to look at to their non-athletic peers, I guarantee you the behavioral results of misbehavior will be much lower.”

Regarding a need for gun ownership, Washington (mascot name deleted) All-Pro safety Sean Taylor was well on his way to possibly a Hall of Fame type career when he was gunned down in his own home during a robbery attempt trying to protect his family. What if he had a gun? Would he still be alive?

In the NFL the crime rate might not be what you thought, according to Stephen Bronars, “On average this amounts to one arrest per 35 players per year, or about 1.5 arrests per team per year.  The arrest rate for NFL players has averaged about 2.9% compared to 10.8% for men age 22 to 34 (based on FBI crime data by age for men in 2009).”

Then of course, as with anything, race is always a factor and even in comedy a negative connotation exists regarding Black men and guns.

When I asked NBA power forward Elton Brand about the perception of Black athletes owning guns vs. their white counterparts he said this during a conversation about the death of Trayvon Martin: I remember Chris Kaman…when I played with him…was a big gun advocate. He had all types of guns. AR 15′s. He goes hunting. He has big guns. Twitter pics of guns. If I took a Twitpic of a gun it would be a different story so I think we should show both sides. ”

Now Chris Kaman and crew were not committing any crimes that we know of in the above video, but if you yourself saw a bunch of Black pro athletes shooting off high powered weapons such as this, what would you think?

Would you rather read another story of an athlete killed in his own home like the Sean Taylor incident?

With that context in mind, you will begin to understand the lifestyle and very real threat associated with being a public target. It's obviously your choice to own a gun and surely many do.

While never absolving any athlete committing a crime using a gun, do yourself a favor and open the discussion a little bit. The point is, while it’s rumored that an overwhelming majority of NBA players own guns, instead of policing athlete gun ownership, shouldn’t we be asking why they feel a need to own guns in the first place?

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