Gun-toting athletes no barrel of laughs
By Kim Landers
Updated Wed Feb 3, 2010 7:26am
The spectacle of multi-millionaire athletes wielding guns like thugs is no barrel of laughs.
But the image of a gun-toting professional athlete is what the NBA is fighting here in the United States after a two players for the Washington Wizards basketball team suddenly brandished weapons in the club's locker room during a dispute.
Imagine if cricketers Simon Katich and Michael Clarke had resorted to guns in their dressing room altercation over the singing of the Australian team's song? Instead it would seem Simon Katich merely grabbed Michael Clarke by the throat.
The situation in the Washington Wizards' locker room was by all accounts far more serious. The whole mess began with a feud over a gambling debt. Star Washington guard Gilbert Arenas, who likes to call himself "Agent Zero" after the number zero on his jersey, got into an argument with teammate Javaris Crittenton. The blow-up happened on the team jet. The two men considered a fist fight and then Crittenton threatened to shoot Arenas in the knee. Despite the aggro, nothing came of it.
But a few days later back in Washington, Arenas put four guns on the chair in front of Crittenton's locker and wrote "pick one" on a piece of paper.
There was an impressive array of firepower to choose from, including a .50 calibre gold plated semiautomatic Desert Eagle and a Smith and Wesson .500 magnum revolver. Crittenton must not have liked what he saw, because he whipped out his very own semiautomatic handgun. No shots were fired and no-one was hurt.
It took a few days for the media to get hold of this bizarre story and when I first read about it I thought, what is it about professional athletes and guns here in the US?
There's no shortage of these sorts of stories. Last year another NBA player was arrested for carrying two loaded handguns and a shotgun in a guitar case strapped to his motorbike. And a football player is serving two years in jail on weapons charges after shooting himself in the thigh.
There are strict gun laws in the US capital. Although that doesn't stop the frequent shootings. Years ago the Washington Wizards changed their name from the Bullets in a bid to cleanse the gun violence overtones. Imagine the Brisbane Bullets having to contemplate a name change because of violence on the streets?
But if a gun-toting basketball player isn't bad enough, it was Arenas' cavalier attitude that really landed him in hot water.
When news of the locker room stoush broke, Arenas tweeted "I wake up this morning and seen I was the new JOHN WAYNE... media is too funny."
And he didn't stop there. In an on court huddle, Gilbert Arenas decided to mimic a gunfighter, using his fingers as pretend pistols and firing at team mates. Some of them laughed and a photo of the gag appeared on the front page of the paper.
The NBA didn't think it was a laughing matter. It suspended Arenas indefinitely without pay, and slapped $10,000 fines on his laughing team mates. The NBA's Commissioner David Stern said Arenas was "not currently fit to take the court." In another Twitter message, the star guard said "I'm a goof ball."
There's no doubt Arenas is eccentric and crowd pleasing. He's got a history of playing practical jokes on his teammates. He has a series of tattoos on his legs that he calls Black Rushmore: images of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and President Barack Obama.
But now the Washington Wizards have gone to great lengths to erase all traces of him. They've taken down a giant banner of him from outside the stadium, edited Arenas out of the pre-game video and removed his jerseys from sale. One Washington Post sports columnist says the 28-year-old deserves punishment, but questions whether he's so evil that all the merchandise bearing his name has to be eliminated.
Arenas has pleaded guilty to one felony count of carrying a gun without a licence. He'll be sentenced on March 26 and could get anywhere from probation to a maximum of five years in jail, although as part of a plea deal prosecutors have agreed not to ask for more than six months in jail. Still a judge will have the final say.
Crittenton has been sentenced to one year of probation and fined more than $1,250 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanour gun possession charge. His lawyer says the 22-year-old took the unloaded handgun into the locker room because "he legitimately feared for his life."
Both players have been suspended without pay for the rest of the season. Arenas has four years remaining on his six year, $111 million contract. He now says that his gun possession and his attempts at humour showed terrible judgement.
I've read one estimate that three quarters of pro basketball and football players carry weapons as a sort of do-it-yourself protection. But there's no way of knowing if this is true. Let's hope the US isn't starting some sort of athletic arms race.
ABC The Drum - Gun-toting athletes no barrel of laughs
There was an impressive array of firepower to choose from, including a .50 calibre gold plated semiautomatic Desert Eagle