- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

You used to be able to see the World Trade Center from the press box atop Giants Stadium. Not much farther away but in the other direction is Newark Airport, where one of the hijacked airliners took off Sept. 11.

The stadium teemed with tension when the Redskins played there two weeks ago. Before I was allowed in the gate, a bomb-sniffing dog nosed around my briefcase, and its contents were thoroughly searched. At the airport after the game, a security guard patted me down from head to foot. It felt like I was passing through Checkpoint Charlie.

This is the general scene in and around New York these days. Martial law hasn't been declared, but people are pretty edgy. You can't walk a block without being reminded, subliminally or otherwise, of the terrorist attacks. Which makes what happened Sunday at the Meadowlands all the more incomprehensible.

In case you hadn't heard, the New York Jets' free safety, Damien Robinson, showed up for the game against Miami with an assault rifle in the trunk of his SUV. He simply "forgot" it was there, he said. He had gone to a shooting range on Long Island the week before, and "I inadvertently left it in the back of my truck when I went to the stadium with my family," he explained in a statement. "It was closed up in a case and not loaded."

Maybe so. But also in the trunk were three magazines that hold 30 rounds each and two boxes of ammunition containing 200 more rounds. A person could do a lot of damage if he got his hands on that stuff. He could wipe out an entire police department or recreate Columbine for the East Coast audience. It's scary to even think about.

What's just as scary, though, is that none of this apparently dawned on Damien Robinson. We all know sports figures live insulated lives, but how could he be so blissfully unaware of society's circumstances? How could he be riding around the New York area in a very steal-able car, no doubt with a small arsenal in his trunk? And what on earth is he doing bringing an assault rifle to a stadium, especially with folks already nervous about congregating in large groups? Has the man taken leave of his senses?

This is the kind of episode that gives athletes a bad name. It's ridiculous enough that some of them have to have these "toys" in the first place and then have to go out and "play" with them. But to be so cavalier about it, to keep a dangerous weapon in the trunk of your car for days at a time … as if it were a spare tire or a set of socket wrenches. There are almost no words to describe that kind of thoughtlessness.

Jets coach Herman Edwards called it "a silly mistake." But there's nothing silly about a .223 Bushmaster. The literature says it's great for shooting coyotes and other varmints, but "for all intents and purposes," a New Jersey cop told Newsday, "it's an assault weapon." That is, it's meant to be aimed at people. (And accurately, too up to distances of several hundred yards.)

Robinson doesn't have a monopoly on silly mistakes, of course. Four years ago, you may recall, then-Cowboys coach Barry Switzer pulled a similar stunt at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. As he was heading to the gate to catch a flight back to training camp, an X-ray machine spotted a .38-caliber handgun in his carry-on bag a loaded .38-caliber handgun. This, at a time when the team was seen as being out of control.

Jay Leno couldn't resist making fun of him. "If [Barry] gets probation," he cracked, "that means he won't be able to coach the Dallas Cowboys. Because it's a violation of probation to associate with known felons."

But times were different then. It was easier to laugh about a sports figure forgetting he had a firearm in his possession. It doesn't seem nearly so humorous now. Pathetic, maybe, but definitely not monologue material.

Some will find it interesting that Robinson was allowed to play against the Dolphins on Sunday that a judge was contacted, a bond of $7,500 was set (and posted) and the Jets' free safety was able to take the field as if he had done nothing worse than run a stop sign. Ask yourself: Had a fan been guilty of the same blunder, wouldn't he or she have missed at least part of the game?

Robinson has apologized profusely and been fined a week's salary by the club (about $30,000) but that's small comfort. About the only thing that would make us all feel better is if this sort of "silly mistake" never happened again. In the fantasyland of sports, though, where even wars against terrorism go unnoticed, that's a long shot.


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