The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

Players Get Gamed


Last December, shortly after ex-New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress discharged an unlicensed gun into his thigh late on a Friday night at a posh Manhattan night club, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised that the star athlete would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law with no leniency or exceptions.

Specifically, the honorable Mayor stated, "Our children are getting killed with guns in the streets. Our police officers are getting killed with guns in the hands of criminals, and because of that, we got the State Legislature to pass a law that if you carry a loaded handgun, you get automatically 3½ years in the slammer... I don't think that anybody should be exempt from that, and I think it would be an outrage if we didn't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, particularly people who live in the public domain, make their living because of their visibility; they are the role models for our kids."

Clearly the mayor's edict does not show any special treatment for star athletes. If anything the preferential treatment pendulum for athletes, entertainers, and politicians has swung the opposite direction. The problem is though that justice must and should be equal for all citizens regardless of their celebrity, stationing in life, fame or fortune.

The common perception is that celebs receive special treatment from the judicial system when they are charged with a crime. The reality is that, due to recent public outcries, celebrities are suffering greater punishments than the average citizen. In no way am I condoning any illegal or immoral activity, only calling for equal justice for all. One need only look at the two plus years that Michael Vick spent in federal prison on a first time conviction, under a plea bargain, to see this pendulum shift.

It is true from both written history and rumor that athletes and other celebrities routinely used to receive special treatment not only with the dispensing of justice but also in protecting them from public scrutiny in all areas of their lives. Celebrities were routinely escorted home from drunken travels as opposed to being booked for DUI's, crime scenes were cleansed and victims bought off quietly without any public mention of the illegal activity. This type of preferential treatment was wrong at the time and its end, while long overdue, was correct.

But the problem has been over-corrected. Although 99% of criminal convictions go unnoticed, when celebs are accused of just about anything, it is typically reported on page one, when they are vindicated it is routinely hidden on page 44.

Athletes, entertainers and politicians are bestowed special adulation and privileges due to our country's fascination with them. With such fame comes a corresponding responsibility to be role models however it does not obviate our need to dispense justice equally to all citizens. The best way to deal with this would be to allow the justice system to try equitably while allowing the sentencing, (after conviction, of course) to take advantage of their fame. Dramatically requiring celebrities to perform large amounts of public and community service would be a positive way to both fairly punish them for committing a crime while benefiting our communities and citizens.

By Peter Schaffer  |  June 8, 2009; 7:10 AM ET  | Category:  Crime , New York Giants , Peter Schaffer , Plaxico Burress Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: A Walk and a Wink | Next: Are NFL Players Treated Differently by Our Legal System?


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Interesting POV Peter. And I must say it is a classic "catch 22" situation with athletes, entetainers, ect....
However, when you are blessed with amazing talent and have the fortunate opportunity to get paid millions of dollars to do, your responsibilites change and with that so must your choices. People forget that “special treatment” works both ways for the famous. The only other aspect is that while it is true celebs receive unparalleled scrutiny, they are also able to avail themselves to defensive resources that the average Joe does not have (e.g. $$$ and legal counsel)

Posted by: JimBeam2 | June 8, 2009 5:00 PM

The key to this apology is "the pendulum has swung the other way".

In the past star athletes escaped justice. People are now tired of this behavior and insist athletes get the same treatment as a regular citizen.

The minimum sentence in NY is 3.5 years.

As we all know Burris did the crime he should get 3.5 years in the slammer. Anything less is unjust.

The problem with people like Peter Schaffer, or Arthur Blank in Atlanta, is that they always make excuses for these people because they can run faster and jump higher than anyone else.

The message is simple: you shoot yourself with an unlicensed gun, you drive drunk and kill someone, you sell drugs, etc. you do the same amount of time and get the same amount of mercy as the average crook.

Posted by: krankyman | June 9, 2009 9:13 AM

This argument is weak.

Your only example is Michael Vick. Vick was convicted by the Federal Government. The Fed sentences people to longer time compared to State and local governments. So getting 2 years was normal.

As for Bloomberg, this guy is a mayor and not a judge. He says whatever he wants but his claim has no impact on how the sentence will be decided.

In my view, athletes get the same sentence as other people. They just get more public attention because they are stars. Someone should teach these athletes when they first start that becoming famous means that doing something stupid will blow out of proportion. So do not do anything dumb.

Posted by: trumeau | June 9, 2009 11:58 AM

Peter Schaffer you nailed it!!


It's harder for athletes to get treated like a normal poor person with a first time incident. Because one is rich people want to see them suffer. Especially when they are Black athletes. There is no sympathy just pompous statements about how everybody should be perfect. Joe Citizen and do these things and we have sympathy. Black ahtlete does it and when call them a disgrace, stupid, thugs, idiots, Rappers, Bling Bling...and all the other racial overtones people spew. Sad thing Peter is these idiot Haters believe that stuff too.

Anyway...Peter gets it and speaks the truth. People don't understand that with first time offenses judges usually don't try to throw the book at you. But, you people want the book thrown at athletes just because they make money. You sound like miserable poor folks. Racist Haters!!!

Posted by: kentonsmith | June 9, 2009 12:52 PM


"The reality is that, due to recent public outcries, celebrities are suffering greater punishments than the average citizen."

Please, Peter in disgust of how players are treated so unfairly explain the continued employment of Leonard Little - go ahead, squeeze out all that anecdotal evidence of how players get shafted!

And the Michael Vick episode is far from a convincing argument to "see this pendulum shift" (see: the numerous denials to the NFLPA and Goodell about his involvement and the cultural dynamic of dog fighting).

Give WaPo it's money back, Peter. This is pure nonsense.

Oh, and Peter, wax poetically for me on how Jason Williams got shafted, when he blew a hole in the chest of his limo driver and never spent a day in jail!!!

A couple dead people and no justice - Friggin Awesome - this knucklehead poses as an informed person and claims that athletes have seen justice turn a blind eye to them - all premised on the Michael Vick episode.


Posted by: tony11 | June 9, 2009 2:35 PM

Knucklehead is another code word for Black male.

Knucklehead is an expression that should only be applied to little children. Somehow it has found it's way into the vernacular of sports fans describing athletes I'll never know. The contemporary spin off expression is..."Nucca". Yeah..I know it sounds like the "N" word.

Jason Williams case was described as a accidental shooting. A jury ruled or fail to rule(mistrial) and they are re-trying the case. Where is this big break you're talking about? Dude had nervous breakdown and still facing legal expenses.

Mike Vick denied dog fighting very early in the game before he knew the extent of his investigation. He was fighting for his football life. It happens. Ask President Bill Clinton. btw, I don't blame Clinton from trying to protect his family with a little white lie. He was fighting for his political life. Only a three year old stained blue dress could do him in. :)

Posted by: kentonsmith | June 9, 2009 3:26 PM

"Because one is rich people want to see them suffer."

I don't have any particular desire to see someone rich suffer. Now someone who is rich and stupid, that's another thing.

Posted by: BEEPEE | June 9, 2009 4:25 PM

I agree with BeePee about the stupidity. But, sometime our writers have a little thing call "spin" that totally mislead people. ESPN are the experts. They are never ever right about anything they report first. Never. They report other sources well but for the life of them they can break a story without it falling apart.

Athletes aren't stupid and the handful that fall through the cracks only represent a small portion of the players. Yet, you have people determined to push these themes on us over and over again. In our minds the cases are more frequent thus we lose respect and deem the athletes "stupid". Hey...we newspaper reading sports fans are gullible what can we say.

Posted by: kentonsmith | June 9, 2009 5:22 PM

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