Although he did not explain what they were, "other reasons" besides grieving for his mother led Plaxico Burress to skip the Steelers' mandatory minicamp last weekend.
"My mother passed away two years ago and that weekend is time for me to grieve with my family," Burress said in a taped interview with James Brown that aired yesterday on the Sporting News Radio network. "So I just made my decision not to go to camp based on that and other reasons."
Burress insisted his contract, which has one year to run, was not an issue, although he did complain about it during his interview with Brown. He also said the Steelers fined him an unspecified amount for missing minicamp, which included two practices Friday and Saturday and one Mother's Day. Players finished their work before noon Sunday. The maximum the Steelers could have fined Burress for missing minicamp is $7,446. "It doesn't bother me at all," Burress said of the fine.
It would be one of the few times coach Bill Cowher has fined a player in his 12 years with the Steelers.
"I've threatened them and given them warnings and I've given them sheets that may have said they were fined," Cowher said recently, "but I don't know if I've ever carried through with it."
The Steelers had no official comment yesterday, but off the record club officials said Burress could have handled the situation better. Had he discussed his feelings with Cowher there would have been no problems, they said. One suggested that Cowher might have given Burress off after the second practice Saturday to be with his family. Cowher has given players time off in the past for non-emergency situations and was described as "reasonable" when it comes to players having legitimate personal or family problems.
Cowher has called it "an unexcused absence" and added "I'm very disappointed in his decision, and we are ready to move on with or without him."
Responded Burress, "To me it was very excusable ... I didn't really feel I had to explain nothing to [Cowher] or explain anything to the owners for any reason."
Burress had been training at the Steelers' facility for several weeks before minicamp and said he talked with Cowher, new receivers coach Bruce Arians, and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt about football and also watched film with Arians. He did not tell them, though, about his desire to skip minicamp.
Team officials did not learn about his plans until one of his agents, Scott Parker, called them the day before it began. Parker said then that Burress had an unspecified personal matter to attend to.
Burress acknowledged that his lack of communication with his coach might have been a mistake.
"Maybe if I had made a phone call to the let them know I wouldn't be at camp, then people would have thought differently. ... That was something I did. Maybe I could have handled it better, but I did it my way. Whether people see it as doing a bad thing or being unprofessional, then that's their opinion. Everybody has their opinion."
On one hand, Burress said that "I don't trust anybody" on the Steelers, but later said "I want to be in Pittsburgh" for the long term. The Steelers already have paid him a $207,000 roster bonus (in March), and he is scheduled to earn $535,000 in salary, plus incentives this season on the five-year rookie contract he received in 2000, one that included a $6 million signing bonus.
There have been no discussions between the sides on a contract extension for Burress, who said he has been told the Steelers want to keep him longer than the 2004 season.
"That's what they're saying. But what they are saying is not being lived up to right now. I think they are unsure of my future there. If so, then all this talk about my contract wouldn't have come up. It would have already been handled. I leave that ball in their park. I'm looking at my situation right now going into this season. It starts in two months, and I'm going into my last year of a contract."
Burress said he plans to report for the opening of training camp at the end of July, but said nothing about the 14 voluntary coaching sessions that begin Tuesday and end June 10. Cowher said last week he hopes everyone on the roster will attend.
Burress' mother, Adelaide, died two years ago. The two were close, and an MTV feature on Burress' rookie season of 2000 featured her prominently as she cooked for him and took care of his new home here.
"It's an everyday struggle with me, but on Mother's Day I didn't feel that was the right decision for me to make. I think I owe enough respect to my family, my brothers and especially my mother on that day to pay my respects to her. It's my time to grieve."
In a training camp interview in August, Burress said he felt responsible for his younger brothers, Carlos and Ricardo, who are in their mid 20s, since his mother's death.
"It basically changed my life," Burress said. "When she passed away, it kind of left me at the front of my family, at the top of the family tree. It was like, we have to do some growing up real fast. I have a lot of people that depend on my being here. Instead of being a selfish guy, I'm going to come out here and work hard, put my family first, my team [second] and myself [third]. And keep things in my order.
"I'm out here sweating hard, not just for my teammates, coaches and myself, but for my family. I'm not just coming out here playing football, it's something that can support me for the rest of my life and have my family not worry about anything."
Burress said he had to travel to his mother's home in Virginia Beach, where his brothers live, once in awhile to "check on them."
"They're on their own, grown up. It hurts for them to be away from me, but something they chose to do."