Former Giants star Plaxico Burress has a sobering message for the new NFL drafts: You're not special.
Burress reflected on his tumultuous journey from sudden football stardom to prison in an open letter to the rookies published on The Player's Tribune, part of a mission he's undertaken to guide naive players vulnerable to the trappings of sudden wealth and fame.
"I had worked my whole life to get to where I was, and I threw it all away with one stupid decision," Burress writes of the fateful night in 2008 he brought his gun to a New York City nightclub and accidentally shot himself.
Recalling how he cried so many nights in prison he lost count, Burress says the experience of "basically being put in a cage 17 hours a day" -- serving food in the prison cafeteria, mopping floors and cleaning toilets -- put things in perspective. And he wants to let the rookies know:
"You're not as special as you think you are. You're not more important than anybody else just because you play in the NFL."
Burress explains he'd always carried a gun since his rookie year in the NFL, and that looking back, it gave him a false sense of security.
After the shooting, he thought, "I'm good, I'm Plaxico Burress. I'm an NFL player. A Super Bowl hero. It's not like they're gonna throw me in jail, right?"
His 22 months in prison was a humbling experience, he says.
Burress writes of the painful experience of finding how quickly the family he'd taken care of financially could turn their backs on him at a low moment, and the heartening one of realizing the friends with whom he'd grown up stuck around.
"I learned some lessons the hard way, and that's OK," he writes. "But at the end of the day, I lost two years of playing the game I love when I was in my prime. I lost millions of dollars. I lost valuable time with my wife and children. I even missed the birth of my daughter, who was born while I was in prison. I basically lost everything all because of one stupid decision."
"And a lot of what I lost, I'll never get back."
Burress says his goal now is to educate young players coming into the league so they don't make the same mistakes. In his letter, Burress also urges new players to teach themselves about money before falling into risky schemes or poor money management that could make them targets for lawsuits. Burress recalls how when he was drafted by the Steelers, "they basically handed $5.5 million to a kid who had never had a bank account" -- and he thought someone in the NFL would teach him about money and about business.
Instead, he says, at the rookie symposium, "It felt like they spent more time teaching us about STDs and how to conduct ourselves in public than about how to protect ourselves from scams, risky investment and other financial dangers."
"No lie, they brought out baskets of bananas and baskets of condoms, like it was an eighth-grade health class," Burress said.
"After the symposium, I could put a condom on a banana, but I still didn't know how to write a check."
Burress says he's not blaming the NFL and that at the end of the day, "it was my life and it was my money, and I should have taken the necessary steps to educate myself to protect what I had earned -- and so should you."