FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- As Plaxico Burress grabbed a microphone and started telling his story Thursday afternoon to about 100 children, some of the kids were murmuring and chattering among themselves.
And then he said "gun."
The kids got quiet in a hurry.
This is what the former -- and, he hopes, future -- NFL wide receiver has been doing for the past few weeks. Released from prison last month after serving nearly two years on a gun charge, Burress has vowed to use his failings as fuel for others, pointing to himself as the illustration that everything can change in an instant.
"I carried a loaded gun into a nightclub and the gun accidentally discharged and I ended up shooting myself, my own self, in the leg," Burress told the kids, part of the Urban League of Broward County. "I was playing professional football at the time. I had just won a Super Bowl. I had just received a brand-new contract. I had just signed a shoe deal with Nike. The choice that I made, basically it took everything away that I worked so hard for."
Burress arrived about two hours late to the event because of scheduling conflicts, then chatted and shook hands with the kids for about 30 minutes. He refused to talk about his NFL future with reporters Thursday, though has said in recent radio interviews that he's eager for another chance in the NFL. And he smiled when one child asked him if he would consider playing for the Miami Dolphins.
"Of course," Burress said.
He drove himself to the event, dressed casually in a T-shirt and shorts, with no entourage. Just him and his story, the way he prefers it to be when doing these sorts of things, he said.
Burress served nearly two years in prison after pleading guilty in August 2009 to attempted criminal possession of a weapon, the charge stemming from his bringing a gun into a Manhattan nightclub and accidentally shooting himself in the thigh.
"Nobody wants to go to jail. It's a terrible place," Burress told the kids.
After his release, Burress said he would devote time to programs designed toward educating people about gun control. He is trying to recruit 10 NFL players -- he mentioned Maurice Jones-Drew and Chad Ochocinco specifically -- to give similar talks during the NFL season, and said Thursday's talk was about the sixth he has given to groups about his downfall.
"I never have anything written down," Burress said. "I just get up there and speak from the heart."
He has committed to working with the National Urban League and Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
"We need to get back into the community and stress more the damage that guns do and how they take lives away, rip families apart," Burress said. "If it takes a person like me ... I'm going to do my diligence, step to the front, raise my hand and say `We can do better.' "
Getting tough questions from the kids is part of the deal, Burress said. And he's not surprised by what they ask, either.
"I have a 4-year-old son," Burress said. "He asks me the same questions all the time."
He told the children about how difficult it was to be in prison for the birth of his daughter, about how he deals with fear and adversity, about how he knows that in one moment -- snapping his fingers for emphasis -- that everything can change in one bad decision. "Every decision you make has consequences," Burress said.
He also gave them a picture of hope, telling them that he remains the only person from his community to attend college, and that his biggest goal now is finishing his degree. With that, the kids clapped.
"I'm living proof," Burress said. "Don't let no one tell you what you can't do."
Burress has played nine NFL seasons, five with Pittsburgh and four with the New York Giants, catching 505 passes for 55 touchdowns in his career -- plus had the Super Bowl-winning touchdown catch for the Giants with 35 seconds left in their title game win over the New England Patriots.
He last appeared in an NFL game on Nov. 23, 2008, and turns 34 next month.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press