Athletes and Guns: STUCK ON STUPID
After his final bid for a berth on the American boxing team that would compete in the 2012 London Olympics had ended with an upset, double-tiebreaker computer loss to Terrell Gausha in the U.S. National Championships, Jesse Hart angrily suggested he just might quit the sport altogether.
Asked if his talented son might actually walk away from the ring forever because of the bitter disappointment he had just experienced, Hart’s father, former middleweight contender Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, shrugged and said, “We ain’t going to stay stuck on stupid.” And Jesse Hart, who definitely is not stupid, did the right thing after he took some time to calm down and think things through. He turned pro, signed with Top Rank and is now 5-0, with four knockout victories, as a promising super middleweight.
When it comes to athletes and guns, however, staying stuck on stupid seems to be a persistent condition that shows little signs of abating. The most recent example – and one of the more egregious – of a world-class athlete who put himself in danger of being shot down, in a legal sense, is Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KOs), who is scheduled to challenge WBC welterweight champion and pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. (43-0, 26 KOs) on May 4 at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. The fight, the first for Mayweather in his multimillion-dollar deal with CBS/Showtime, will be televised via Showtime Pay-Per-View and in theaters nationwide.
But although there appears to be little chance the bout won’t go off as scheduled, less certain is the possible damage done to Guerrero’s career in the long term as the result of his March 28 arrest for attempting to bring a handgun onto a flight from New York to Las Vegas. Airport security personnel were summoned and Guerrero (seen above in Tom Casino-Showtime photo) was taken into custody at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Guerrero’s next court appearance in New York isn’t scheduled until May 14, 10 days after he and Mayweather duke it out.
Unlike some athletes who treat firearms the way a certain fraternity’s lothario did during his produce-section come-on to Mrs. Wormer – who can forget Otter telling the cougarish wife of the Faber College dean that “Mine’s bigger than yours,” as he brandished his XL-sized cucumber – Guerrero isn’t stupid, particularly self-absorbed or in need of more and bigger toys that go bang. He is a devout Christian and an inspiration to many for his steadfast support of his wife, Casey, during her ordeal with leukemia (the dread disease is in remission after a successful bone-marrow transplant). Oh, yeah, he’s also a very good boxer who was named co-Fighter of the Year for 2012 (with Nonito Donaire) by Thesweetscience.com after impressive points triumphs over Selcuk Aydin and Andre Berto.
But, although his intentions appeared to be pure, Guerrero – or his advisers – should have known that New York has the strictest gun-control laws in the nation and that trying to bring a handgun unlicensed in that state (it is legally licensed in Guerrero’s home state of California) into an airport, even if it was unloaded and in a lock box, was bound to carry potentially severe consequences. In addition to the firearm, Guerrero, who voluntarily told a Delta Airlines official what was in the lock box, was in possession of two empty 15-round ammunition magazines.
“He was trying to do the right thing, the poor guy,” a law enforcement source, who asked not to be identified, told the New York Daily News when asked about Guerrero’s unwise decision. “The cop had to arrest him. He had no choice. Now it’s up to the DA.”
And the district attorney who has jurisdiction in the matter, Queens Borough’s Richard A. Brown, might not be so inclined to dismiss the incident simply because it involves a squeaky-clean celebrity who believed he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Ignorance of the law is seldom a legitimate excuse for breaking one, and that excuse almost never flies (pun intended) when the violation involves a lethal weapon .
“I hope that Mr. Guerrero fights better than he thinks,” Brown said. “For anyone who hasn’t gotten the message, let me be crystal clear: You cannot bring an unlicensed weapon – loaded or unloaded – into this county or this city. And if you do you will be arrested and face felony charges.”
Guerrero is charged with one count of criminal possession of a firearm and three counts of third-degree possession of a weapon. If convicted, he faces up to four years in prison, although some form of probation and a stern admonishment from a judge seems a more likely outcome.
There always will be debate among lawmakers and the pubic involving the rights of gun-owners as accorded by the Second Amendment to the Constitution, and it says here that those rights are inviolable and should not be abridged without a compelling reason. But there is a time and a place for everything, and there are common-sense solutions to matters that too often result in inflamed emotions. Guns and airports simply do not go together. Can we all agree on that?
I am not some anti-gun zealot. I served in the Marine Corps and can generally hit what I aim at. My late father was a cop, as are both my sons and their wives. They left or do leave for work each day armed with service weapons and in the knowledge that bad stuff can and does happen out on the street.
Some of that bad stuff involves highly paid boxers and ballplayers who often feel they can’t step out the door unless they have more concealed firepower than Dirty Harry. But feeling a need to carry a gun, in places where it isn’t really necessary to do so and highly improper in any case, isn’t restricted to athletes pulling down big bucks. College kids do it, too, and more often that you might imagine.
When I worked down South a lot of years ago, there was, somewhat ironically, a 5-9 shooting guard at Mississippi State University named Kent Looney. One day, during a pickup game on campus, he got into it with a teammate, left the court and returned with pistol in hand, to show that he was not someone to be messed with. Looney played for three colleges in all, displaying a nice perimeter jump shot and, at times, a hair-trigger temper.
A former colleague of mine asked Looney about the gun incident and he replied, “If you travel in the circles I do, you better be packing.” This from a guy who grew up on the famously mean streets of Guntersville, Ala.
Looney now heads the Guntersville Parks and Recreation Department, and last July he coached the Alabama Southern Starz girls to the AAU 11th-grade Division 2 national championship. He would prefer that his youthful indiscretions not be brought up, but maybe the turnaround in his life can serve as a cautionary tale. Where would he be now had that gun gone off, accidentally or on purpose, and left the teammate lying in a pool of blood?
But there is a sense of entitlement with some athletes who equate guns with virility and strength. NFL wide receiver Plaxico Burress brought a handgun with him to a New York night club a few years ago and inadvertently wound up shooting himself in the leg. Not only that, but he served two years in prison for even having the thing on his person.
Former NBA guard Delonte West was pulled over for a routine traffic stop in 2009 and was found to have two handguns (one a .357 Magnum) and a shotgun in his car. He claims he “needed” the arsenal for self-defense, but he still is looking at a possible three years behind bars. But even West was topped by NFL defensive tackle Tank Johnson, who was found to be in possession of a handgun while leaving a club in Chicago. Thirteen months later, he was arrested for possession of six guns, including two assault rifles, all loaded, in violation of his probation. Another huge defensive tackle, Shaun Rogers, has a legal carry permit for a concealed weapon yet was arrested for bringing a loaded gun into an airport.
No one is saying Robert Guerrero, with a chance to make history by becoming the first man to put a smudge on the pristine record of Mayweather, the self-proclaimed greatest fighter of all time, is an offender on a par with some of the aforementioned. But consider why Guerrero, who is training for the Mayweather fight in Vegas, was on the East Coast to begin with. He was doing a media tour to hype both the fight and himself, and there were no gossip-page reports of him being seen in the wee hours at strip clubs. He appeared on Good Morning America in New York and the 700 Club with Pat Robertson in Norfolk, Va. Neither of those engagements should have concerned him to the point where he felt he needed to be packing heat.
In the weeks ahead, Guerrero – who turned 30 the day before his arrest --will be asked, and frequently, about his strategy for the Mayweather bout. But one question some inquiring minds would like to have answered is why he thought it was a good idea to bring a gun, unloaded or not, onto a commercial airplane when some travelers have been detained in the past for trying to go through the security checkpoint with such seemingly innocuous items as tweezers and metal nail files.
It might not have been a case of getting stuck on stupid, but it was at least a stopover.