A recent AP article by Rachel Cohen compares the sentences of National Football League players Plaxico Burress, Donte’ Stallworth and Michael Vick.
Burress, the one-time Super Bowl star, accepted a plea bargain Thursday with a two-year prison sentence for accidentally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub. The former New York Giants wide receiver pleaded guilty to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon… Stallworth, the Cleveland Browns receiver, served 30 days in jail for running over and killing a man while driving drunk. Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons star quarterback who recently signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, served 18 months in prison for torturing animals and running a dogfighting ring for years.
Although people tend to rank the seriousness of crimes in roughly the same order, I’d wager that there is a higher-than-usual standard deviation around citizens’ preferred sentence lengths for these three offenses. Felony DUI manslaughter has been very lightly punished in the United States relative to, say, Sweden; folks disagree on whether animal cruelty and gambling conspiracy should be felonies or misdemeanors; and, Mr. Burress actually pled out to “attempted weapons possession in the second degree.” It is hard to say whether such a crime merits two years of hard time, though I generally favor vigorous enforcement of weapons offenses.
One can’t say for sure whether star athletes tend to get lighter sentences (ala Stallworth) or heavier sentences (ala Burress), but ol’ Ray Lewis seems to be rolling along just fine. The real punishment, of course, will be meted out by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The Commish can just toss a handful of grass into the air, check which way the wind is blowing, and determine whether Messrs. Burress, Vick, and Stallworth will be NFL princes or bounced-from-the-league paupers.