Athletes are playing with money and fire   

Updated: December 12, 2007, 9:09 PM ET

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I caught an episode of MTV's "Cribs" a few days ago that featured Floyd Mayweather Jr., who defeated previously unbeaten Ricky Hatton on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Mayweather showed off his numerous high-priced vehicles and expansive home. Though that was nothing compared to what Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Norm Clark reported about Mayweather's lavishness in Saturday's paper. I'm paraphrasing, but Clark said Mayweather hits the Vegas strip clubs as hard as he hit Hatton, and he reportedly once tipped a stripper $50,000.

The column also included an outrageous quote from Brendan Powers, the marketing director for the nightclub Poetry, supposedly one of the boxer's favorite destinations.

"I've seen him [make it rain] at least 20 times in the last couple years," Powers said. "Pound for pound, he's the best tipper."

Twenty times? Candy, Brandy and Strawberry all have gold-tipped stilettos and diamond-studded thongs, thanks to Mayweather. Now, normally Mayweather's extravagance could be excused as silly behavior by an athlete trying to draw attention to an increasingly irrelevant sport, but his bragging seems foolish and disrespectful when people are still reeling from Sean Taylor's tragic death.

Taylor has barely been buried a week and not only does Mayweather provide an example of an athlete not getting it, as does Indiana Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley, whose Rolls Royce was shot up early Monday morning following a confrontation at an Indianapolis nightclub.

Taylor's "mistake" was extending kindness to the people who ultimately ended up killing him. One of the men accused of breaking into Taylor's home had done some yard work for Taylor, who unwittingly became a target when he allowed his stepsister to host a birthday party at his house that some of the intruders attended.

What happened to Taylor could have happened to anyone, but the lesson for all athletes is you never know who is watching and coveting what you have.

Of course, I'm not wishing anything bad, but Mayweather and Tinsley are engaging in the sort of high-risk behavior that makes them ripe for a tragic headline.

Poor aim is the only reason Tinsley isn't seriously hurt or dead. He was shot at with an assault rifle outside a downtown Indianapolis hotel -- a situation the police say possibly began when a group gathered around Tinsley's Rolls Royce outside a nearby nightclub and began clowning Tinsley about his cars, earrings and salary.

Pacers equipment manager Joey Qatato, who was sitting with Tinsley in his Rolls when it was fired upon, was struck in both elbows but has since been treated and released. Making matters worse, Tinsley's boys allegedly chased the shooters in one of Jamaal's vehicles -- and Tinsley's brother, James, even returned fire. James Tinsley has a gun permit, but it's still a miracle no one was killed.

Tinsley was smart enough to pull into a hotel, presumably because it presented a measure of safety. If Tinsley had gone to his downtown condo, he very easily could have become the next Sean Taylor.

Tinsley didn't deserve having his life in jeopardy, but he does deserve to be chastised for putting himself in such a ridiculous situation.

Is it too much to ask athletes to exercise common sense during these dangerous times? No one is saying athletes should stay trapped in their homes 24 hours a day, but is it too much to ask that Tinsley not roll to a nightclub with his boys in a Mercedes and Rolls Royce? Is it too much to ask that he not be out at 3:40 a.m., when only bad things can happen?

This isn't blaming the victim, but asking those most likely to be victimized because of their wealth and fame to stop drawing the wrong kind of attention and to make choices based not on machismo but on preserving their lives.

The line between life and death for an athlete is at its all-time thinnest. Taylor and Darrent Williams, who was shot to death early on New Year's Day, both had their lives taken through no fault of their own. Tinsley did everything the wrong way and is still alive. That's how precarious and unpredictable life is.

I'm happy Mayweather has succeeded enough to have such incredible financial resources, but now every criminal who can read knows he's a guy who doesn't mind carrying around enough cash to give a stripper a $50,000 tip.

"We're in the entertainment capital of the world," Mayweather told the Las Vegas paper. "Why not bring something different to the sport? Flash and flair."

Flash and flair gets you killed. Tinsley's life-threatening situation started because he was being harassed about his wealth. Since he's also facing charges for a bar fight from a year ago, he's got the combustible tag of being known as a rich, assumed tough guy.

So does Mayweather, who seems to be oblivious to the hate culture that has developed toward athletes. We live in a 24-hour news society that feeds us information on everything from injuries to how much child support Matt Leinart's baby's momma receives each month ($15,000), breeding an incredible amount of jealousy toward athletes.

People should be above that pettiness, but time and again we see it only takes one Corona too many, one overdue bill too many and one gun too many for an athlete to become a victim.

Athletes need to wake up.

Page 2 columnist Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.


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