With great trepidation, I wade into a take on sports*. The one-time Super Bowl star New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress accepted a plea bargain and, with good behavior, will spend 20 months in jail for accidentally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub. The Cleveland Browns receiver Donte’ Stallworth spent 24 days in jail for running over and killing a man while driving drunk. The big debate revolves around whether the two men received equitable treatment under the law.

One the surface, it may seem easy to compare the two cases, however, there are some important observations. The offenses took place in different states, New York and Florida, respectively. Different jurisdictions make for different sentencing guidelines. New York has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, thus not the best place to bring an unlicensed firearm into a night club. Then there were other mitigating factors, such as the state possibly having a difficult time securing a conviction because the victim in the Stallworth case having ran into traffic.**

It’s easy to see people found guilty of a crime receiving what appears to be different penalties for them and think that, once again, an injustice has occurred. Again, on the surface, it might seem like only one is paying a price and looks like the other is getting over. Though, they were both superstar receivers, when they faced serious legal trouble, they ran radically different routes.***

Donte’ Stallworth pulled over immediately after the accident. Though undoubtedly tempted to flee the scene, he tried to help the man and stayed around until the police arrived (even submitting to a blood test). He made a settlement with the family and a plea agreement with the prosecutor. Though a tragic situation, he made the best of it through his unconditional acceptance of responsibility for the incident. Owning it immediately, being contrite, getting with those he’d hurt, he tried to make things right and accepted the consequences of his actions (while not wanting this incident to define either him or his team).

On the other hand, instead of calling the police, Burress thought that he would try to outsmart the police. Not that he called them; rather, he had a teammate call his trainer. He tried to hide the gun and avoided taking an ambulance. He gave the emergency room staff a false name. And he ignored the advice of the counsel in his life and long refused to make a plea deal of any sort, employing a strategy of denial and delay.

We’re a forgiving people. We’re all about giving folks a second chance because, well, everyone makes mistakes and we get it. Just own up to it. Don’t blame others, play the victim, deny, trot out different theories of what happened, have to be chased down for an apology, or act like you did nothing wrong. It all boils down to how you respond when you get caught. How you get back up after you stumble and live with the consequences—from the shame to your contrition to your rebuilding of your life—that reveals who you are. Responsibility is a simple concept; it means to it means accepting the consequences for the things that you do. There can be forgiveness, though you are responsible for how you deal with the consequences.

Just don’t kill a dog.

*The fans are every bit as nuts as those in the gaming scene and this is far from my area of expertise.
**I just remembered, I’m as much a lawyer as I am a sports analyst. I’ll stop now.

***I hate puns, yet …