BY NOW, JUST ABOUT everyone knows New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress was suspended for the rest of the season after accidentally shooting himself in the leg with an unlicensed gun in a Manhattan nightclub more than a week ago. And, just about everybody has an opinion about the incident.

Jimmy Rollins said he doesn't condone what Burress did, but the Phillies shortstop understands - perhaps better than most - why an athlete would feel compelled to carry a weapon.

Rollins told the New York Daily News that when he was 18 he was robbed at gunpoint while walking on a street in Oakland, Calif., his hometown. The incident, which happened just before he was drafted by the Phillies in June 1996, had a lasting impact.

"Having never been through something like that, I didn't see anything unusual going on," Rollins told the newspaper after competing in a celebrity golf tournament in the Dominican Republic over the weekend. "Now when I go out, I'm always aware of my surroundings. I was walking down the street and this car passed me and started to do a U-turn. These guys jumped out, held a gun to my chest and asked for everything."

Rollins was unharmed, but said the incident made him aware that anything can happen to anybody.

"That invisible protective armor you have, you realize it's really not there," Rollins said. "So

every time you go somewhere, do something, you always watch your back. There are laws - but laws don't help you when somebody has a gun to your chest, to your head. They're not concerned about the law. They're concerned about one thing, and that's taking everything you have on you. If you don't give it up, they need to do what they have to do, they might do it. It has nothing to do with the law. It's self-preservation.

"As a celebrity, you want to go out, have fun and enjoy your life, but unfortunately there are people that see you as a target. They know where you are. They know what you like to do. Follow you in a club, out of a club, whatever. You just try to pick and choose your spots." *

- Tom Mahon