The Covington News - - Sports -

Ti­tans safety Chris Hope, who does not own a gun. "Most of us are 25, 26 years old and in the prime of our lives. We can't en­joy the spoils God has blessed us with by go­ing out and hav­ing a good time or go­ing and trav­el­ing, buy­ing nice clothes or jew­elry, be­cause you have to worry about looking over your shoul­der."

The NFL life­style is filled with big-time money and fame — and all the prob­lems that go along with that. Per­sonal safety is some­thing many play­ers think about ev­ery time they step out­side their house.

Or some­times while they're still in the house.

The death of Red­skins safety Sean Tay­lor, shot in the leg at his house by an armed in­truder, brought the sub­ject of the NFL­player-as-tar­get to the fore­front. The first an­niver­sary of Tay­lor's mur­der was Thanks­giv­ing Day.

"Es­pe­cially af­ter that in­ci­dent, I think us ... high-pro­file play­ers be­ing able to carry weapons and be­ing able to pro­tect your­self, it's a 50-50," said Ben­gals re­ceiver Chad Ocho Cinco, who owns guns but doesn't take them in pub­lic. "Be­cause when you carry it, it weighs heavy if you get in trou­ble or you have to use it or it's used against you. And then you can't go any­where be­cause you at­tract. It's hard."

Es­ti­mates on how many play­ers owned at least one gun ranged from around 20 per­cent (by Von­nie Hol­l­i­day of the Dol­phins) to 90 per­cent (by Leonard Davis of the Cow­boys), with the ma­jor­ity say­ing the num­ber was some­where around half.

Sev­eral play­ers in­ter­viewed said they were hun­ters or knew hun­ters on their teams who owned shot­guns. But hand­guns are clearly the big­gest con­cern.

Hardly any­one would take a guess at how many car­ried hand­guns in pub­lic, al­though a few said they fig­ured that some of them prob­a­bly car­ried them more for show than pro­tec­tion.

"If they do, it's dumb," Chiefs cor­ner­back Pa­trick Sur­tain said. "But if you're car­ry­ing it for pro­tec­tion, you have a right to."

Al­most all of those in­ter­viewed agreed that NFL play­ers are in a much dif­fer­ent place than the av­er­age ci­ti­zen and have ev­ery rea­son to own a gun. On the sub­ject of the wis­dom of own­ing a gun, the re­sponses di­verged wildly.

"Nine times out of 10, I'm go­ing to get in trou­ble, even pro­tect­ing my life," said Jaguars wide re­ceiver Den­nis North­cutt. "That's why I stopped car­ry­ing. I don't want any more prob­lems. You jack me, most likely you're go­ing to get my stuff."

Else­where in the locker room, an en­tirely dif­fer­ent opin­ion emerged.

"Why is it so bad for a per­son to have a gun in his or her sole pos­ses­sion to pro­tect them­selves?" asked Jaguars run­ning back Mau­rice Jones-Drew.

One prob­lem cited by JonesDrew and oth­ers was that player salaries are of­ten made pub­lic.

"They look at you a cer­tain way be­cause of the money we make and the sta­tus that we have," Cow­boys re­ceiver Ter­rell Owens said. "But, I mean, for my­self, that's why I ei­ther have some se­cu­rity per­son­nel that rolls with me or I don't go. Or I travel with a group of guys."

Bring­ing a se­cu­rity de­tail along makes play­ers feel safe without hav­ing to carry a gun, and some said that was their choice.

Still oth­ers ac­knowl­edged a re­al­ity preached to them by coaches, team se­cu­rity spe­cial­ists, the union and the league: If it's the kind of place where you need a gun or a body­guard, you prob­a­bly don't want to be there.

"I don't carry a gun," said Hous­ton Tex­ans owner Bob McNair, whose per­sonal wealth dwarfs that of any of his play­ers. "I don't think I need a gun. I don't think the play­ers need guns and if they need guns, they're go­ing to places they shouldn't be."

The NFL strongly dis­cour­ages gun own­er­ship and gives pre­sen­ta­tions de­scrib­ing their dan­gers, a league spokesman said.

"In some cir­cum­stances, such as for sport or pro­tec­tion, you may legally pos­sess a firearm or other weapon," the NFL pol­icy says. "How­ever, we strongly rec­om­mend that you not do so. Any weapon, par­tic­u­larly a firearm, is danger­ous — es­pe­cially so when it is in a ve­hi­cle or within reach of chil­dren and oth­ers not prop­erly trained in its use."

De­spite th­ese pre­cau­tions, trou­ble some­times finds th­ese play­ers.

— Three days be­fore the Bur­ress shoot­ing, his team­mate, Steve Smith, was robbed at gun­point af­ter be­ing dropped off at his town house in a chauf­feur­driven car. Some say that may have com­pelled Bur­ress to bring his gun to the club.

— For­mer Pack­ers run­ning back Noah Her­ron fended off a rob­ber in his house by beat­ing him with a bed­post.

— Last year, Tex­ans cor­ner­back Dunta Robin­son was robbed at gun­point in his house, tied up, and had his kids shoved into a closet. He now owns a gun and says it makes him feel safer.

— There have been dozens of other ex­am­ples of ath­letes get­ting robbed in re­cent years, both in and out of foot­ball, in­clud­ing Will Allen, Ed­die Curry, An­toine Walker and Stephon Mar­bury.

Tay­lor's death brought the dan­ger into new per­spec­tive. The play­ers' union ran sem­i­nars about home pro­tec­tion.

"They weren't pro­mot­ing guns, but when you send that mes­sage out (about home in­va­sions), you put a lot of fear in guys," Steel­ers line­backer Larry Foote said. "A lot of guys prob­a­bly see that they need to carry guns."

Ea­gles quar­ter­back Dono­van McNabb said he doesn't own a gun.

"I don't own any weapons un­less you call a cou­ple of Louisville slug­gers and alu­minum base­ball bats some of my weapons," he said. "But if you come into my house, I am go­ing to turn into Barry Bonds on you."

When go­ing out on the town, most of the 1,500-plus play­ers in the NFL don't want to do any­thing to jeop­ar­dize their liveli­hoods. Whether they go to the movie the­ater, a nice restau­rant or a dance club, they are of­ten rec­og­niz­able, ei­ther by face, physique, their car they drive or the clothes and jew­elry they wear.

"I pray when I leave the house," said Jaguars run­ning back Fred Tay­lor, who is in the process of get­ting his gun li­cense re­newed.

Bron­cos cor­ner­back Dar­rent Wil­liams was in a limou­sine, try­ing to get away from a scene that had turned ugly, when he was shot and killed in Den­ver on Jan. 1, 2007.

Last sum­mer, Raiders re­ceiver Javon Walker, who was sit­ting next to Wil­liams in the limo when he was killed, was beaten up and said he had $100,000 in jew­elry and $3,000 cash stolen in Las Ve­gas. Po­lice said Walker will­ingly got into the passenger seat of a Range Rover driven by his al­leged as­sailants, an easy tar­get be­cause he was drunk.

Jaguars of­fen­sive line­man Richard Col­lier had to have his left leg am­pu­tated be­low the knee this year af­ter be­ing shot 14 times while sit­ting in a car out­side an apart­ment com­plex wait­ing for two women he had met at a night club. Po­lice be­lieve the man ac­cused of shoot­ing him was re­tal­i­at­ing for an ear­lier al­ter­ca­tion at a night club.

"He's ready to get out of there," said Col­lier's friend, Pack­ers de­fen­sive line­man Kenny Pettway. "Just happy to be alive and ready to get out of there."

Would car­ry­ing a gun have helped any of th­ese ath­letes in those sit­u­a­tions?

"It de­pends on how you look at it," Rams cor­ner­back Ron Bartell said. "Would you rather take your chances in a court of law or would you rather take your chances of putting me in a cas­ket?"

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