Man, this was a tough one. In fact, this was as difficult a year for picking out the worst sports criminal as any in recent memory. Can I get an extension, Mr. Taxman?
Though 2007 also fielded an impressive roster of high-profile athletes whose criminal exploits monopolized headlines for large chunks of the calendar, it essentially boiled down to a two-man contest between a couple of professional football players: Michael Vick and Adam “Pacman” Jones.
Jones pulled out the Phoenix’s Skell of the Year award for 2007, and this year validated our non-faith in him by continuing to be a violent douchebag, among other things helping torpedo the season of his new team, the Dallas Cowboys, by getting into a much-publicized fistfight with his own bodyguard in a hotel bathroom.
But this year was different. In a way, 2008 was a much more disturbing year in sports crime than 2007, featuring as it did a much wider array of ghastly jock malfeasances. Competition was so stiff, in fact, that two multiple offenders couldn’t even capture the crown. (Typically, unless there is a uniquely awful single-event crime — a Rae Carruth–type murder conspiracy — we would give this award to an athlete who commits at least two serious crimes in a calendar year. Some weight has to be given to the athlete who proves himself to be a repeat offender, a criminal personality as opposed to a schlub who makes a one-time mistake.)
This year’s multiple-offense runners-up are former University of Nebraska running back THUNDER COLLINS and then–New York Mets relief pitcher AMBIORIX BURGOS.
Ex-Cornhusker Collins was in the news quite a bit this past year. In August, he was hosting a fundraising event in Lincoln, Nebraska, when someone inexplicably left him in charge of the money. It vanished (duh) and Collins quickly reported the “theft” of more than $13,000 to the police (he wasn’t charged). At the time, Collins’s return to public life was much publicized around the university — he had disappeared after a series of arrests (boasting the sports-crime trifecta of weed, gun, and chick-boxing incidents) had clouded his legacy as a very good college running back. But a month after the charity incident, Collins went away again — this time probably for good — after a shooting he allegedly committed in Omaha left one man dead and another seriously injured. Collins was charged with first-degree murder, meaning he probably won’t be hosting charity events any time soon.
Burgos, meanwhile, was sputtering along as just another high-octane power arm who couldn’t find the plate — the kind of guy almost every team has somewhere in their farm system. This past year, Burgos was injured and loafing around during the Mets’ annual late-season slide when he got arrested for throwing his girlfriend against a wall in a Queens Holiday Inn. A month or so later, back in his native Dominican Republic, he was involved in a hit-and-run that left two women dead. He allegedly ran over two women in a Hummer and fled the scene, and was subsequently arrested and charged in the two killings.
And the winner is . . .
Kudos to Burgos and Collins for their fine efforts. But, all told, we’re still going to have to go a different direction, fellas. (There’s always next year!) Instead, we are awarding the Phoenix’s Skell of the Year for 2008 to none other than PLAXICO BURRESS of the New York Giants.
Granted, Burress’s crime is, on its face, not as serious as those committed by Collins, Burgos, or any of the many other rapists or murderers on the 2008 list. And it’s not because he plays for the Giants, either (though that doesn’t help). Burress is the winner here because of three factors:
1) By bringing a loaded weapon into a nightclub when he was partying, Burress was frankly lucky he didn’t kill anyone. That he was the only person who got shot was purely happenstance. All of these guys who get in trouble, it always starts with someone bringing a gun to some place where they don’t need one.
2) Burress is an asshole. This year alone, he’s been fined for throwing a ball into the stands and verbally abusing an official during a game against the 49ers. He also has been suspended for violating team rules numerous times, and was a mini-camp contract hold-out (because he felt his $3.25 million salary left him underpaid). Again, all of these guys who get into serious trouble, it always starts out with a sense of entitlement and being above it all. And Burress has those things in excess.
3) Burress got doctors, several teammates, and team officials bogged down in a cover-up for his mistake. Or you could say it another way: Burress got in trouble, but might not have been in trouble had he not been surrounded by enablers every step of the way. The really tragic thing about sports crime is that the system creates these guys. No one ever draws the line for them, so where are they supposed to learn about not crossing it?
The Plax story was the big sports-crime story of the year, and even though it wasn’t nearly as awful as the Vick tale or the Jones business from 2007, it was emblematic of the bigger problem. He is an unrepentant, arrogant, irresponsible creep who spends his weekend nights drinking Cristal with a fucking loaded Glock in his pocket. How many of these guys do we want running around?
When he’s not googling “Plaxi-con” and “Burr-ass,” Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.