Porter empathizes with Burress, defends athletes' need for guns

Updated: December 10, 2008, 12:38 PM ET
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Miami Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter had plenty to say when asked about New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress' latest troubles, and Porter can speak from experience.

Porter, in an interview that will be aired Wednesday morning on "ESPN First Take" (10 a.m. ET, ESPN2), said some NFL players feel the need to have a firearm to defend themselves and their families, and that Burress, while caught in not "the smartest situation," has been unfairly portrayed in the media.

"Plaxico is like a brother to me. I take it real personal how he's being treated," Porter said. "Everybody has their mistakes, but that's exactly what they are ... Until you've been in that situation, when you've been robbed at gunpoint or you've had a gun waved in your face or had your house broken into before or been carjacked, you really don't know what it's like."

Burress was injured in the early morning hours of Nov. 29 when a .40-caliber Glock he was carrying in his waistband slipped down his leg, and as he grabbed at it, he accidentally pulled the trigger and shot himself in the thigh.

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Teammate Antonio Pierce drove Burress to the hospital, and the Giants suspended Burress for the final four games of the regular season and placed him on the non-football injury list. Pierce remains active.

"For a person to carry a gun, I mean, you're not carrying a gun to show that 'I'm tough.' It's safety, it's nothing but safety," Porter said.

Porter had his own scare on Aug. 30, 2003, when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He decided to fly out to see Colorado State, his alma mater, face Colorado. Afterward, he went to a Denver bar with some friends and, while standing in a parking lot with about 150 other people, got caught in the middle of a shooting.

Denver police said Porter was an innocent bystander, and that the shooting, which left one dead and five others wounded, was possibly gang-related.

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Porter was struck in the buttocks by a 9 mm bullet, which lodged in his right thigh. The Steelers had feared Porter would miss half the season, but his wounds healed so quickly he missed only two games.

In the season opener, Burress, then in his fourth year with the Steelers, wore a sticker on his helmet bearing Porter's No. 55.

"When you get out of a situation like that and you've been in harm's way, the first thing that goes through your mind, I'd rather get caught and take the little penalty from the media, whatever the situation may be, than not have a chance to save my life," Porter said.

"It's tough out there so I'm not gonna say I condone what happened. It was a mistake by [Plax]. I know he wish he never did it. But I don't think it's as bad as everybody made it seem, either."

Porter brought up the 2007 shooting death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, and the September shooting of Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Richard Collier, who is paralyzed below the waist as a result.

"They're making [Burress] out to be such a bad guy but you look at all the guys that's been robbed this year, all the home invasions, all the guys that's been shot, like Collier, look how many times he got shot," Porter said in the interview.

"I mean, you look at Sean Taylor, he was trying to go by the rules of not having a gun because he got in trouble earlier that year with the gun. Something as simple as that, he gets a home invasion and he gets killed over something simple."

Porter said he does not have a bodyguard, but acknowledged that he owns a firearm, and has a permit to carry a concealed weapon in California, but not in Florida.

"I'm not saying I'm walking down the street with a handgun on my hip," Porter said. "I'm not doing it for show. It's not fun. Hopefully, in my lifetime, I never have to use it."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who discussed the situation before Monday night's game between the Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said the NFL has a strict gun policy but also must manage it against the constitutional right to bear arms

"The real issue to me, is when the players feel they're unsafe, they shouldn't be there," Goodell said. "So get out, don't be there. If you feel the need to have a firearm to be someplace, you're in the wrong place."

Porter countered that thinking, saying, "It's a tough situation. I mean we're always in the spotlight. So you can't tell a person to stop living your normal life. You're gonna go out and do these things.

"I've had my house broken into before ... I know Plax had been robbed before ... But it's tough for us to say we're professional athletes so we're not supposed to protect ourselves."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.