Karen Heller: Burress as another jailBird? Why not?

Posted: June 08, 2011

Sign him.

Former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress left prison Monday sporting a Phillies cap. This gesture was interpreted by observers as a sign that he wants to join his buddy, the fellow ex-con and Virginian, in playing for the Eagles.

Burress served 20 months for bringing an unlicensed .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol - mind you, tucked inside his sweatpants - into a Manhattan club.

Do not try this: Putting a firearm into your sweatpants. Illegal and stupid. The Glock accidentally discharged, hitting the wide receiver's right thigh.

"Absolutely, it would be a great addition for our team," Michael Vick told WIP-AM Tuesday - the players also share the same agent, Drew Rosenhaus. "I think with the guys we have now, I think we can fit him in and make it work. I think certainly Plaxico is going to come out with a chip on his shoulder the same way I did, and he'll go out and help this football team to whatever capacity he can. I think the guys would be willing to embrace him and bring him in."

There are several reasons why hiring Burress is a potential win for the team and the region. Philadelphia is home to far too many former inmates who can't find work. The city prison system alone releases about 35,000 inmates annually, in addition to graduates of state, federal (Vince Fumo, scheduled to return January 2013), and, like Burress, other states' correctional systems.

Last month, former guest of the federal system and recovering tax cheat T. Milton Street Sr. tried to secure gainful employment as Philadelphia's mayor. Perhaps he hoped to pay back the almost $400,000 he owes the city by having us pay him. This novel approach, however, failed.

Eagles coach Andy Reid, with two sons who spent time behind bars on drug charges, has led by example in hiring Vick, convicted in 2007 of running a dogfighting operation. If the Eagles pick up Burress, the team might become the city's premier halfway house, the Jail Birds or the PENnsylvania Eagles. Playing together, Vick and Burress would run a top ex-offender line, the pairing a potential for the latest remake of the prison pigskin flick The Longest Yard.

The receiver has one of the greatest names in the game. Plaxico Burress is pure poetry - corporate poetry - and sounds like a pharmaceutical concern, a kin of GlaxoSmithKline. In our pharma-rich region, he would fit right in.

Selfishly, I have lost far too many wagers betting against Burress and the New Jersey Giants.

Furthermore, given Plaxico's age and time off the field, the Eagles could pick him up cheaply. The Eagles love cheap.

But far and away the best reason for the Eagles to sign Burress is the good that might come of rectifying his mistake. Since Vick's hiring two years ago, the team has been proactive in battling the abuses of the quarterback's past, championing animal rights and donating funds. Vick has made appearances for the Humane Society's anti-dogfighting program. Still, there was a spike in dogfighting arrests this year. Perhaps this will put pressure on the Eagles, and Vick, to do even more.

But the region has an even bigger gun problem. Burress went to prison because New York has stringent gun laws, while Pennsylvania, thanks in part to a lax attitude in Harrisburg that protects Second Amendment interests at all costs, has far weaker legislation, including the Florida gun loophole allowing residents to acquire out-of-state permits.

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, when asked the source of Philadelphia's crime, didn't hesitate. "Here in Pennsylvania, we have no shortage of guns, and no shortage of people who are willing to use guns," he told me this year. "It's higher here than Chicago, Washington. You look at the amount of violence that takes place, 80 percent of our homicides are due to handguns."

I'm all for the Eagles, worth an estimated $1.1 billion enriched by fans' rabid loyalty, giving back more. That chip Vick mentioned on Burress' shoulder? The Eagles should cash it in. Off the field, you may not think much of Burress. But you know who might listen? Young folks with illegal guns.


Contact columnist Karen Heller at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or @kheller on Twitter. Read the blog "Blinq" at www.philly.com/blinq. Read her past columns at www.philly.com/KarenHeller.

 

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