FORT LAUDERDALE — A month after being released from prison, Plaxico Burress formed a partnership with the National Urban League to volunteer his time to empowering at-risk youths across the country.
Embarking on a new chapter in his life, the former NFL wide receiver showed up, albeit some two hours late, on Thursday July 21, at the Arthur Ashe Middle School in Fort Lauderdale to give his sixth talk to kids about his rags to riches story and his ultimate downfall. About half of the nearly 200 children in attendance had already left when Burress arrived.
"In 2008, I carried a loaded gun into a nightclub and the gun accidentally discharged and I nded up shooting myself, my own self, in the leg," Burress told them. "I was playing professional football at the time. I had just won the Super Bowl. I had just had a son. I had just received a brand-new contract. I had just signed a shoe deal with Nike. The choice that I made, basically, it took everything away that I worked so hard for."
Burress, 33, served 20 months in prison after pleading guilty in August 2009 for bringing an unlicensed gun into a Manhattan nightclub in 2008 where he accidentally shot himself and failed to report it to the police. He was released last June.
“We believe in second chances and he’s a great person to communicate that,” said Joe Toliver, the Urban League of Broward County’s division director of programs.
Dressed in a plain white T-shirt and khaki shorts, Burress showed up alone, just the way he prefers it, he said, with an unwritten speech that was coming straight from his heart, of how in an instant everything can change because of one mistake.
"Every decision that you make has consequences," Burress said. “And I paid a tremendous price and I don’t want that to happen to anybody else, so just don’t get in a position to have everything taken away from you for making a bad decision.”
Burress also carried an uplifting message of how he grew up in Virginia without a father, without a turkey for Thanksgiving and gifts under the Christmas tree, and that even after 15 years he was still the only one from his neighborhood to attend college. He added that his one future goal is to graduate from college.
"You may not understand, but you’re building a foundation right now for the rest of your lives and you don’t even realize it," Burress said. “Education will take you anywhere you want to be in life; you don’t have to be a football or basketball player to be successful, so don’t limit yourself.”
Prior to his arrest, Burress played nine NFL seasons, five with the Pittsburgh Steelers and four with the New York Giants. He scored the winning touchdown catch for the Giants during their 2008 Super Bowl win over the New England Patriots.
Burress said he plans to recruit 10 other NFL players – namely, Maurice Jones-Drew, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Chad Ochocinco, to join him in the National Urban League Celebrity Empowerment Challenge. The initiative seeks to collaborate with celebrities, not just athletes, who can contribute their talents, resources and life lessons to young adults and inspire positive choices that empower them for college, work and life.
“Our goal at the Urban League is to empower the kids that are here and we do that in many ways,” said Toliver. “We’re not just babysitting. We’re working to really make some change and to impact their lives.”
Tracy-Ann Taylor may be contacted at Tayltra9@aol.com
Photo: COURTESY OF DAVIDIPHOTO
LIFE LESSONS: Plaxico Burress talks with kids at the Urban League of Broward County about the consequences of bad decisions and on becoming successful.