I spent a lot of time thinking about athletes and guns when I wrote a piece on the subject for the April 2009 issue of VIBE. By the time I was finished researching and writing it, I started to realize that many athletes in America today own (and carry) guns. New Jersey Nets point guard Devin Harris confirmed it to the rest of the world last week when he estimated that 75 percent of NBA players own guns. That’s a pretty alarming number—unless, of course, you consider that the average NBA salary is $5 million and, last time I checked, there’s still a recession going on in this country. That means that if you’re depositing checks with six zeroes on them, you can pretty much expect to become a walking target before the check clears.
The Gilbert Arenas situation has put the issue of athletes and guns back into the national spotlight. Now, what he did was incredibly stupid and, unfortunately, the same happy-go-lucky, goofy, playful, childish persona that helped Gilbert rise to the top of the NBA in terms of popularity has also, ultimately, become his downfall. He’s handled his recent situation as about as poorly as he could have and, for whatever reason, he keeps managing to make things worse. He’s going to have to live with the consequences that comes as a result of that. But beneath all the hoopla surrounding a story that includes two Washington Wizards teammates pointing guns at each other lies a simple truth: Athletes are packing heat at an alarming rate. And if the NBA and the NFL and Major League Baseball and, hell, even hockey don’t get a grip on the issue and learn to deal with it (that means acknowledging it, instead of trying to hide it like most of them have done), sensationalized stories involving athletes and guns are going to continue to pop up in the news every few months.
I appreciated (and still appreciate) Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris for speaking to me candidly about an incident that forced him to consider getting a gun. But, unfortunately, I found that so many other athletes were unwilling to utter a word when they found out I was working on a story related to guns. Publicists wished me luck but wanted their clients to have nothing to do with the piece. One even laughed at me and asked if I was crazy for even asking for access to one of his athletes. If there’s very little communication between players and the media regarding guns, I imagine there’s no line of communication between players and the professional sports leagues when it comes to guns, either. And if that doesn’t change soon, stories like the one involving Gilbert Arenas are only going to get worse in the future. Here is the piece I wrote, as it ran, in the April 2009 issue of VIBE. – Chris Yuscavage