Soap Box: Professional Idiot

Shelby Dixon

Why do professional athletes make it a habit to do stupid things? Why is it that these role models continually make fools of themselves by breaking laws, acting inappropriately and otherwise causing a ruckus? On Thursday, January 14, 2010, Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas was charged with felony gun possession after an investigation into a December 21, 2009 locker room conflict with teammate Javaris Crittenton. In that argument, over a card-game dispute two days prior, Arenas pulled a handgun out of his locker and waved it in Crittenton’s direction. Arenas claimed to have had three handguns in his locker because of a safety concern with his children at home. He also claimed to not know it was illegal to possess a pistol without a license.

My first question is how dumb do you have to be to not know that this was illegal? First, there is the NBA’s rule prohibiting possession of a firearm on league property. So even with proper licensure, Arenas was in violation of league policy. This is an important rule for one to understand, don’t you think? In Arenas’ line of work, it could be likened to him saying he wasn’t aware that he needed to dribble. As an employee, you are responsible for knowing all rules and policies of your employer. If a teacher hit a student because she didn’t know it was illegal, chances are she would lose her job. If a mailman opened people’s mail because he didn’t know it was illegal, that mailman would no longer be working for the post office.

But more disturbing, is Arenas’ clueless nature. After New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress was sentenced to two years in a federal prison after pleading guilty to the same charges Arenas now faces, you would think Arenas would have thought to himself “maybe I should get a permit.” Instead, he faces five years in federal prison unless he can reach a deal with prosecutors. How hard can it be to get a license for your guns? Honestly, pay the fee, get the permit and be done with it. Don’t put yourself at risk of going to jail or losing your job. You are a superstar athlete, not a hoodlum. You have a responsibility to yourself, your teammates, your fans to be on the court, playing. You have a responsibility to your family to provide for them. How can you do that in a federal prison cell?

Arenas said he made a mistake pulling his gun out in the locker room in a “misguided effort to play a joke.” What part of this is funny? I have never been in an NBA locker room, so I cannot attest to the culture and relationship between teammates. What I do know is that if one of my friends pulled a gun on me, I would not see anything funny in the situation. And if I had a gun, as Crittenton did, I would brandish it too. I don’t see any circumstance in which pulling a gun on someone could be considered humorous. This was more than a prank that went awry. This is a case of a superstar athlete breaking a federal law. This is a case of life or death. Yes, the gun was unloaded, but mistakes happen. What if it hadn’t been unloaded and that gun discharges? Well, we’ve got a dead body in a locker room.

The attempts to explain his thinking have left Arenas in a precarious position. Either he is an idiot for breaking federal laws, or he is a moron for thinking this would be funny. Both of these statements are true and neither of which are ones that shed a positive light on Arenas. I am continually perplexed by the poor decisions made by high-profile athletes that lead them into trouble. It makes no sense to me; you have everything going for you, why break the law? I am dumbfounded at the idiocy of Arenas in this situation. In a society that is constantly looking for role-models to slip up, that continually views big-time athletes as hoodlums and buffoons, Arenas has confirmed that stereotype, given critics the mistake they have been looking for.