Sean Taylor, A Human Being

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[Race And Media: Comments]

“…We all know that Sean Taylor had a troubled past, but he was maturing…”-WTEM, Sports Talk Radio.

“I wasn't surprised in the least when I heard the news Monday morning that Sean Taylor had been shot in his home by an intruder. Angry? Yes. Surprised? Not even a little. –Michael Wilbon, Washington Post.

“At the moment, it is far too soon to draw any conclusions as to how or why this tragedy occurred, why another young black man is now dead from a gunshot wound in his own home, why another athlete, Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, and now Sean Taylor becomes headline news for all the wrong reasons” –Leonard Shapiro, Washington Post.

These are just a few of the comments made about Sean Taylor, the All-Pro Safety for the Washington Redskins after it was learned that he had died of gunshot wounds, suffered when burglars invaded his home.


Sean Taylor was only 24 when he was murdered.

He was as promising an athlete and human being as you’ll ever see. Taylor was a new father, the son of a sheriff and came from a middle-class background. He was also Black.   
That last part should not have made a difference in the way Sean Taylor’s life and death were reported, but it did. Take a look at the quotes at the beginning of this article again. What conclusions can you draw about the person they are referring to? These comments, all made prior to the arrest of four suspects in Sean Taylor’s murder, infer that Sean Taylor’s life somehow had something to do with his own, tragic death.

What events in Taylor’s life could lead sports writers, reporters and analyst to make such assumptions?
In 2005, Taylor pleaded “no contest” to simple misdemeanor battery and simple misdemeanor assault. The incident involved him punching someone that had stolen an All-Terrain Vehicle from him.

In recovering his property, Taylor punched the guy that stole it from him. The media incorrectly reported that Taylor had a gun. If he had been in possession of a firearm however, Florida State law mandates that Taylor would have been charged with “aggravated.”

Regardless of what neighborhood you’re from or what your ethnicity is, “Man Law – 101” dictates that you never let anyone take your property. You’re taught that as a child, from the first day you step on the playground.

The only exception to this rule is if you are outnumbered or the thief is armed and dangerous. NFL players are the ultimate men among men. They are gladiators that play the most physically demanding team sport in the world.

Sean Taylor was in an elite class among these gladiators. How can a case be made that his reaction to the theft of his ATV was somehow thuggish or unreasonable?

Among the other transgressions that gave Taylor the “troubled” label was skipping part of the NFL Rookie Symposium, firing two agents and not speaking to the press. The last one is probably the reason Taylor was labeled as he was.

The press have a way of getting even with athletes they perceive as difficult or uncooperative. At least partly because of his perceived arrogance and his attitude towards the sports media, Barry Bonds was dubbed the poster child for steroid use in major league baseball.

Rookies are supposed to be the humblest of professional athletes, so I can understand how skipping part of the NFL Rookie Symposium would turn some people off.

However, before Eli Manning, quarterback for the New York Giants was even drafted, he told the San Diego Chargers that he would not play for them if they selected him. What could be more brazen than that?

I don’t hear Eli referred to as “troubled” or having a “checkered” past.

The media coverage of Sean Taylor during his life and in his death never attempted to present Sean Taylor as a complex, thinking, multi-dimensional human being. It was easier to take snapshots of certain events in his young life, report on them without any perspective or context, and place him in the “thug” category that so many young black men get placed into. 

This is what happens when you have a majority of reporters and analyst who have no frame of reference into the Black community, presenting black athletes to the public. Or those that do have a perspective seem to conveniently forget it when it may be easier to take the other path. There always seems as if there’s a piece of a Black athlete’s humanity that’s missing. I don’t think it’s done on purpose. I liken it to the white cop that catches a group of white kids smoking pot.

He sees them as the sons and daughters of his neighbors. He might even see a bit of himself in them. He might give the kids a stern warning, but 9 out of 10 times, he doesn’t arrest them. Take the same cop catching a group of black kids doing the same thing. We still live in a largely segregated society. The cop doesn’t see himself, his friends or family in those kids. He sees lawbreakers. They get arrested and taken to jail not home to their parents. 

The media saw Sean Taylor as another young Black man with an attitude. However, Taylor’s high school coach described him as “well-mannered” and “clean cut”. Gulliver Preparatory, the high school Taylor attended, was also attended by George Bush’s nephew, Enrique Iglesias and Jackie Garcia, the niece of actor Andy Garcia. Jackie Garcia became Taylor’s high school sweetheart, the mother of his daughter and his fiancée.
Veteran defensive lineman Renaldo Wynn described how in the middle of the 2006 season, Taylor quietly packed his locker and moved from the young, rowdier section of the locker room and to a spot next to him. Wynn’s locker room mates were the older, God-fearing veterans with scars and wisdom about the ways of the NFL. When asked about the move, Taylor told Wynn. “Hey man, just needed a change”.

It doesn’t appear as if the people that knew Sean Taylor best thought of him as a thug, or a troubled youth with a checkered past. I think the coverage of Sean Taylor’s death struck me particularly hard because I have 2 sons, ages 22 and 24. They are both loving, well-mannered boys, who were raised to respect authority. They sometimes wear the mask that our young Black men have learned to wear. It’s a form of self preservation. It says, “I’m not going to be a victim”.

I wonder if, heaven forbid, either of my boys became the victim of a violent crime, how the reports on them would read? Would the reports infer that they somehow led a life style that contributed to their demise? Would my sweet, beautiful boy’s lives somehow be diminished in print by some writer, whether black or white, that only sees another threatening Black youth instead of someone’s son?

I didn’t know Sean Taylor, but I do know that he was more than just a football player. Sean Taylor’s death should not have been mentioned with Michael Vick’s troubles or “PacMan” Jones. Like the rest of us he could not be described in terms of saint or sinner; Taylor was, in the end, a victim of a senseless horrible crime. A victim of the type of crime we all fear; a home invasion where he was forced to defend his fiancée, their child, and his home. I don’t wish that on anyone, even the idiot reporters who insinuated that Taylor somehow brought it on himself.

Some of them incorrectly did the calculation of young + Black + the violent way Taylor died = thug life. That equation did a disservice to Sean Taylor and everyone that loved him.  They saw a young, aggressive, sometimes cocky athlete on the field, but failed to see his humanity off of it.


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