Many NFL players shudder when they think about what Plaxico Burress is going through - and what still awaits.
Players across the league think about how difficult his life has become. They think about how much worse it could have been. And they think about how - in a culture where athletes and guns seem to go together far too often - it easily could have been them.
``It's eye-opening, there's no doubt about it,'' Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking said.
Burress carried a loaded handgun into a Manhattan night club and it accidentally fired. The bullet hit him in the right thigh, causing injuries that doctors said would keep him out four to six weeks.
The New York Giants suspended Burress for the rest of the season, but his problems could grow. He has been charged with illegal weapons possession, a felony that requires a mandatory minimum 3 1/2 years and a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted.
s to ask players about guns. None condoned what Burress did. Most of them, however, could see why a player might want to carry a loaded handgun in public.
``We get paid a good amount of money for the sport, but we're still kids,'' said Titans safety Chris Hope, who does not own a gun. ``Most of us are 25, 26 years old and in the prime of our lives. We can't enjoy the spoils God has blessed us with by going out and having a good time or going and traveling, buying nice clothes or jewelry, because you have to worry about looking over your shoulder.''
The NFL lifestyle is filled with big-time money and fame - and all the problems that go along with that. Personal safety is something many players think about every time they step outside their house.
Or sometimes while they're still in the house.
The death of Redskins safety Sean Taylor, shot in the leg at his house by an armed intruder, brought the subject of the NFL-player-as-target to the forefront. The first anniversary of Taylor's murder was Thanksgiving Day.
attract. It's hard.''
Estimates on how many players owned at least one gun ranged from around 20 percent (by Vonnie Holliday of the Dolphins) to 90 percent (by Leonard Davis of the Cowboys), with the majority saying the number was somewhere around half.
Several players interviewed said they were hunters or knew hunters on their teams who owned shotguns. But handguns are clearly the biggest concern.
Hardly anyone would take a guess at how many carried handguns in public, although a few said they figured that some of them probably carried them more for show than protection.
``If they do, it's dumb,'' Chiefs cornerback Patrick Surtain said. ``But if you're carrying it for protection, you have a right to.''
Almost all of those interviewed agreed that NFL players are in a much different place than the average citizen and have every reason to own a gun. On the subject of the wisdom of owning a gun, the responses diverged wildly.
``Nine times out of 10, I'm going to get in trouble, even protecting my life,'' said Jaguars wide receiver Dennis Northcutt. ``That's why I stopped carrying. I don't want any more problems. You jack me, most likely you're going to get my stuff.''
Elsewhere in the locker room, an entirely different opinion emerged.
One problem cited by Jones-Drew and others was that player salaries are often made public.
``They look at you a certain way because of the money we make and the status that we have,'' Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens said. ``But, I mean, for myself, that's why I either have some security personnel that rolls with me or I don't go. Or I travel with a group of guys.''
Bringing a security detail along makes players feel safe without having to carry a gun, and some said that was their choice.
Still others acknowledged a reality preached to them by coaches, team security specialists, the union and the league: If it's the kind of place where you need a gun or a bodyguard, you probably don't want to be there.
``I don't carry a gun,'' said Houston Texans owner Bob McNair, whose personal wealth dwarfs that of any of his players. ``I don't think I need a gun. I don't think the players need guns and if they need guns, they're going to places they shouldn't be.''
The NFL strongly discourages gun ownership and gives presentations describing their dangers, a league spokesman said.
rly trained in its use.''
Despite these precautions, trouble sometimes finds these players.
- Three days before the Burress shooting, his teammate, Steve Smith, was robbed at gunpoint after being dropped off at his town house in a chauffeur-driven car. Some say that may have compelled Burress to bring his gun to the club.
- Former Packers running back Noah Herron fended off a robber in his house by beating him with a bedpost.
- Last year, Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson was robbed at gunpoint in his house, tied up, and had his kids shoved into a closet. He now owns a gun and says it makes him feel safer.
- There have been dozens of other examples of athletes getting robbed in recent years, both in and out of football, including Will Allen, Eddie Curry, Antoine Walker and Stephon Marbury.
Taylor's death brought the danger into new perspective. The players' union ran seminars about home protection.
``They weren't promoting guns, but when you send that message out (about home invasions), you put a lot of fear in guys,'' Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. ``A lot of guys probably see that they need to carry guns.''
Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said he doesn't own a gun.
on you.''
When going out on the town, most of the 1,500-plus players in the NFL don't want to do anything to jeopardize their livelihoods. Whether they go to the movie theater, a nice restaurant or a dance club, they are often recognizable, either by face, physique, their car they drive or the clothes and jewelry they wear.
``I pray when I leave the house,'' said Jaguars running back Fred Taylor, who is in the process of getting his gun license renewed.
Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was in a limousine, trying to get away from a scene that had turned ugly, when he was shot and killed in Denver on Jan. 1, 2007.
Last summer, Raiders receiver Javon Walker, who was sitting next to Williams in the limo when he was killed, was beaten up and said he had $100,000 in jewelry and $3,000 cash stolen in Las Vegas. Police said Walker willingly got into the passenger seat of a Range Rover driven by his alleged assailants, an easy target because he was drunk.
Jaguars offensive lineman Richard Collier had to have his left leg amputated below the knee this year after being shot 14 times while sitting in a car outside an apartment complex waiting for two women he had met at a night club. Police believe the man accused of shooting him was retaliating for an earlier altercation at a night club.
py to be alive and ready to get out of there.''
Would carrying a gun have helped any of these athletes in those situations?
``It depends on how you look at it,'' Rams cornerback Ron Bartell said. ``Would you rather take your chances in a court of law or would you rather take your chances of putting me in a casket?''
AP Sports Writers Jamie Aron and Stephen Hawkins in Dallas, Andrew Bagnato in Phoenix, Dave Campbell in Minneapolis, Josh Dubow in Oakland, Calif., R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis, Dave Goldberg and Dennis Waszak in New York, Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., Chris Jenkins in Green Bay, Wis., Joe Kay in Cincinnati, Bob Lentz in Philadelphia, Mark Long in Jacksonville, Fla., Charles Odum in Atlanta, Kristie Rieken in Houston, Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh, Andrew Seligman in Chicago, Doug Tucker in Kansas City, Mo., Howard Ulman in Boston, Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn., Joseph White in Washington, Steve Wine in Miami and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this story.

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