The Plax of His Tears: E:60‘s Surprisingly Revealing Interview With Plaxico Burress
I was standing ankle-deep in shredded paper on lower Broadway back in February of last year, and the money float — the one with Eli Manning, Michael Strahan, and the Vince Lombardi trophy — had just driven by to much rejoicing and fist-pumping. I assumed that another marquee player couldn’t be far behind.
“I can’t wait to see Plax!” I exclaimed to a fellow hooky-player. I was referring on a first-syllable basis to Plaxico Burress, the 6’3″ wide receiver who had pulled down the championship-winning touchdown, and with it the odious New England Patriots, several days before.
Never much of a poster child for the Giants — his face was typically twisted into a scowl, and a recurring ankle injury kept him off the practice field for much of the season — Burress was nevertheless one of my favorites. I never questioned his game-readiness (Allen Iverson would agree with me on that one) and his performance that season largely quieted any doubters. He generally made the players around him better: his greatest asset, his height, enabled him to snag many of the errant jump-ball tosses that Manning tends to hurl and contributed in no small part to the Giants QB being named Super Bowl MVP that year.
But I don’t have the best track record with my favorite athletes. The beloved jersey I wore throughout that season (and ultimately to the ticker-tape parade) was that of the grumpy but electrifying Jeremy Shockey, who suffered a season-ending injury in Week 15 and promptly went MIA from the Giants’ sideline and ultimately from the victory march. Also missing from the parade that day, as it turned out: my man Plax, who cited the bum ankle as an excuse. I was crushed.
Unlike Shockey, who would never again suit up as a Giant, Plax did return to the team, but only after a messy and distracting contract dispute during preseason. And then, only briefly: Giants fans woke up one Saturday morning in late November to the news that their star wide reciever had … what? Shot himself? At a nightclub? On the Upper East Side? The mind boggled: who knew that the Upper East Side had clubs? Anyway, it became clear that Burress’ name would never again appear on a Giants jersey. Instead, it was added to the esteemed (albeit rapper-heavy) Wikipedia list of “American shooting survivors.”
This week, Plax finally did show up somewhere: in court, where he accepted a plea sentence for 2 years in prison for attempted criminal possession of a handgun, and then later on ESPN’s news magazine show E:60, where he spoke with Jeremy Schaap at length in his first public TV interview.
E:60, which debuted in October of 2007, is styled as a 60 Minutes clone, with multiple segments ranging from profiles and interviews to feature stories and Very Special Episode-y pieces. While it has a fair amount of overlap content-wise with ESPN’s investigative reporting-heavy Outside the Lines, E:60 has shorter segments that veer both maudlin and slapstick. Save for some unfortunate mini-controversies, like an embarrassing ambush on Miguel Tejada (remember when birth certificate scandals were the domain of baseball players and not Presidents?) and some racially-charged comments about the pseudo-sport Parkour, the Tuesday night show has largely flown under the radar.
Lately, though, it has come close to cornering the market on NFL Players in Legal Trouble, having previously run an interview with Donte Stallworth, who pleaded guilty a to DUI manslaughter charge several weeks prior. (The third player in this Unholy Trinity, Michael Vick, chose to go straight to the big leagues to be interviewed by James Brown on the real 60 Minutes. I was hoping for Morley Safer!) Awful Announcing questioned whether the routing of these interviews to E:60 was an effort to boost ratings, but I think they constitute the perfect type of programming for the show.
I’m biased, of course, but I found the Burress-Schaap banter to be an excellent exchange. Burress was calm, humble, likeable — in his description of the seconds after the gun went off, he charmingly referred to his Chuck Taylor shoes with a downcast smile — and contrite, with a clear understanding that he had himself to blame for his situation. (I found Vick’s interview, in contrast, to be somewhat less believable.) Burress is due to be officially sentenced on September 22, and I worried that he would appear tight-lipped and dodgy in advance of that date. Indeed, Jeremy Schaap later said in an interview with WQXI in Atlanta that Burress warned him that there were issues he may not be able to discuss but that “sure enough, all the things that I assumed he would be reluctant to discuss and he would basically take the fifth on, he discussed anyway.”
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