This is a story about believing in someone even when he makes mistakes. Super Bowl star Plaxico Buress has been on a roller coster ride the last few years. The ride just got even more interesting this week.
Hero gone bad
For everyone who follows professional football, the name of Plaxico Buress will be forever etched in their memory. He had made the winning catch in the last seconds that helped the underdog New York Giants win the Super Bowl three years ago.
Plaxico was a hero in New York after that game. But a few months later he made a big mistake. It was a mistake based on bravado and arrogance.
Plaxico went into a bar one evening in New York City. He probably did not need to be in that bar. He was married, and his wife was expecting their second child. He probably should have been with her, not out looking for a good time on his own.
Plaxico knew that football players often get challenged in bars by show-off guys. These show-off guys like to pick fights, maybe to impress their friends or girlfriends. Some sports stars have taken to carrying guns into bars in order to “protect” themselves.
Not a good idea.
Plaxico was one of them. At one point the gun Plaxico was carrying began to slide down his pants. As Plaxico reached to retrieve it, the gun misfired. Luckily, Plaxico did not hurt anyone else, but he did hurt himself. His wound was not career ending, but news of the dangerous event got to the press.
Plaxico had done a stupid thing, putting other peoples lives in danger. And the reaction of the public and the justice system was swift. Plaxico was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally carrying a handgun. The mayor of New York City and other public figures, justifiably concerned about violence in the city, wanted to send a strong message: no matter how important you are you will be prosecuted if you put other people’s live in danger.
So the Super Bowl star went to prison.
Alone, but not quite
That’s where this story really begins. What do you do when you are in prison because you messed up? How do you pull your life back together again?
One way to pull yourself back together is having friends who still believe in you. Plaxico did have a few friends. One key friend these last few years has been Brandon Jacobs, a teammate on the New York Giants.
Brandon plays running back for the Giants. He is very big for a running back: 6 foot 4, and 265 pounds. Brandon has sometimes gotten into trouble himself for his temper (He once threw his helmet into the stands after a bad game.He was recently fined $20,000 for exchanging punches with an opposing player in a preseason game.), so he knew what it was like to be shunned by the press and teammates.
Brandon Jacobs called his friend Plaxico every week while Plaxico was in jail. He was the only member of the Giants call him on a regular basis. He was also the first person to visit him in jail.
Brandon says, “I know what kind of life Plax lived growing up. I know what kind of life I lived growing up. And I know no one else can really judge that.”
Being there for the boy
But Brandon did more than than just call Plaxico in jail. Brandon also spent time every week with Plaxico’s children. He especially tried to be there for Plaxico’s son, Elijah.
Elijah missed his dad a lot. He was only a year and a half old when his dad went to prison, and did not understand what happened. During the past two years Mr. Jacobs came over every week to visit Elijah and let him have “guy time”. Little boys love to play “rough house”. It helps them grow emotionally. They usually do this with their dad or their older brothers. Mr. Jacobs made sure Elijah had this kind of time. He also had Elijah and the rest of his family over to visit very often. Mr. Jacobs has a son, Trevor, who is the same age as Elijah. The two became close friends.
Plaxico’s wife Tiffany calls Mr. Jacobs and his wife Kim “our family”.
In a interview for the Wall Street Journal last year Kim explained, “He (Mr. Jacobs) and Kim both go so out of their way. Elijah talks to Plax on the phone very day, but Brandon makes sure Elijah has someone here.”
Believing in the greatness
Mr. Jacobs explained his involvement as simply being a friend to someone he admired. “Plax has overcome a lot things in his life people don’t know about. If he was home right now, he’d be doing all these things I do with Elijah.”
Both Plaxico Buress and Brandon Jacobs grew up without the presence of a father. Both had to struggle to overcome poverty and atmospheres of violence as they grew up.
Our greatest heroes are often our friends and family. We know their struggles, their weaknesses and failings, and we see their effort to overcome these things. Brandon Jacobs saw a hero in Plaxico Buress, and did his part to help Plaxico believe in himself.
Even though Plaxico was visited by Brandon and several other teammates during his stay in prison, he felt slighted by the leadership of the team. The coach of the Giants, Tom Coughlin, never visited him, nor did the star quarterback, Eli Manning, whom Plaxico had defended at moments when Eli was not very successful. In a recent interview Plaxico said Coach Coughlin’s statements to the press about him during his time in trouble were pretty cold and uncaring.
Mr. Buress made the decision not to return to the Giants once he got out of prison. This summer he accepted an offer to play for the New York Jets.
New start: so far so good
Some people were doubtful that Plaxico could still play well after two years in prison, but on the opening game of the new season Plaxico caught several clutch passes for his new team, including one for a touchdown. His catches helped the Jets win in a very close game with the Dallas Cowboys.
Plaxico claims that his time in prison did him a lot of good. It made him appreciate his wife and children as the best thing in his life. It gave him time to pray and grow in his relationship with God. It made him resolve to be a better person.
But his time in prison also made him see that some people can be pretty cold. When he was no longer useful to the Giants leadership he was forgotten. That hurt very deeply, and it made him look for another team.
It seems he has found a team that believes in him. Jets Coach Rex Ryan has encouraged Plaxico in his comeback and has had nothing but positive things to say about him. That trust seems to be paying off.
Only time will tell if Plaxico will continue to do well in football and in life. None of us knows exactly how we will react to life’s challenges. Each day is a new beginning and a new challenge. But Plaxico can thank former teammate Brandon Jacobs and his new coach Rex Ryan for helping him through this “bump on the road”.
Hate the sin, not the sinner
Mr. Jacobs’ example of friendship and commitment to Mr. Buress can help all of us. Believing in the greatness in others can pay rich dividends, not just in football, but in life.
As Christians we know that Jesus believes in our greatness even when we mess up. Jesus often got in trouble with the religious leaders of his day because he spent so much time with people who were public sinners.
It’s true, Jesus condemned sin very clearly, but it’s also true that he constantly reached out to sinners. He was always inviting them to rediscover the joy of living in the Father’s house. And Jesus died to pay for our sins.
Punishment is necessary sometimes, so that we do not continue hurting ourselves and others. But we also need redemption. We are loved by God. He knows we still have the capacity to be holy and to live meaningful lives. He still sees us as his children.
Brandon Jacobs knew Plaxico Buress had overcome adversity in his life before. He knew he could do it again.
That’s something to salute. That’s something to imitate. That’s something Christian. That’s something richly human.