Former NFL Star Plaxico Burress to NFL Rookies:
Oct 26, 2008; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress (17) warms up before the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Plaxico Burress knows a thing or two about how poor decisions can derail a career. Now he wants to pass that knowledge along to incoming NFL rookies.

Former New York Giants and New York Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress is sending a message to all the young hopefuls coming into the NFL. No one knows more about poor decisions can come back to haunt you more than Burress, who shot himself in the leg with an illegal gun back in 2008 which led to a 20-month prison sentence. He also has had repeated run-ins with the law and money problems that never seem to end.

In a letter published today in The Players Tribune, Burress outlines many of his transgressions and warns young players about the pitfalls they may encounter after becoming professional athletes. 

“You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to lose money in a bad investment or give money to somebody you shouldn’t. Almost everybody does. Which is why you need to take it upon yourself to learn about how money works and how business works…Don’t expect somebody else to teach you.” 

Burress made an estimated $30 million over his 12 year NFL career and it went almost as fast as it came. He cites the league’s inability when it comes to helping players manage their fortunes as well as outsiders leeching off him. If he knew then, what he knows now, he would have done it all differently.

After getting drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, he felt as if he was on his own once he signed his rookie deal worth $5.5 million. He attended the rookie symposium which is geared to lay out all of the potential issues facing young players coming into the NFL.

“After the symposium, I could put a condom on a banana, but I still didn’t know how to write a check. But nobody did.

I’m not blaming the NFL. 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. Because you’re going to be a target. I’ve been sued more times than I’d like to count. Sometimes, people sued me because I owed them money — which was a result of me being a bad businessman and not managing my finances well.

But sometimes I felt like I was getting sued just because I had money.”

As for personal behavior, Burress says he did things then that he would never think of doing now.

“I had it all — money, fame, a Super Bowl ring. I was ballin’, on the field and off. I was living the dream…Then, in 2008, I took a gun into a New York City nightclub, and everything changed.”

But it was prison that changed him the most. He had gone from being a revered athlete who caught the winning touchdown in the Giants’ improbably win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII to an inmate with no identity and a basically forgotten soul.

“I went from being an NFL superstar to basically being put in a cage for 17 hours a day. I cried so many nights that I lost count. I thought about all the playground legends from my hood who were better athletes than me, but they stayed in the hood doing the same things they had always done, smoking the same things they had always smoked and getting caught up in that life.

But not me. I got out. I earned my way out. I had worked my whole life to get to where I was, and I threw it all away with one stupid decision. Now I was serving food in the prison cafeteria, mopping floors and cleaning toilets.

That puts things into perspective.

If you take one thing away from reading this, I think it should be that 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.”

The letter is more telling and helpful than anything the league or any agent can produce. It is coming from a man who has walked the walk and no the is talking the talk. Hopefully, it will reach many of these young men and sink in like an episode of Scared Straight.

“I always hear retired guys who have been through some shit in their lives say things like, ‘I wouldn’t change a thing because it made me who I am today.’

But would I change anything?

Hell yeah, I would.”

The letter appears to be heartfelt and direct. He’ll get nothing out of it except possibly some redemption and maybe the chance to help keep some of these young men off the police blotter and bankruptcy court.

“A lot of what I lost, I’ll never get back.

I can’t take back what I did. But my goal is to educate young players coming into the league so they don’t make the same mistakes. You’ll have a lot of people giving you advice, and it’s going to be tough to sort through the bullshit. So if you ever need somebody to talk to — somebody who’s gonna give it to you straight — hit me up on Twitter @plaxicoburress. I’m always down to help.

In the meantime, good luck. You’re in the NFL. And if you make the right decisions, you have a great life ahead of you. Just do your thing, be smart … and ball out, man. Because you’re living the dream.

Just don’t f*** it up.”

Nice job, Plaxico. Bravo.

Special thanks to the Players Tribune for the use of the article and it’s contents.

John Fennelly has been covering the New York sports scene on the Internet since 1997. He has advised and been published on dozens of prominent websites and in major periodicals and can been heard on sports talk radio stations all over the dial. Before embarking on his career as an accredited journalist, John held several management positions in a successful 25-year career in the financial industry. He holds a degree in New Media/Journalism from Queens College.