Sean Taylor, star safety for the Washington Redskins, died Tuesday of a gunshot wound inflicted by an intruder in his Florida home.
He was 24 years old.
For the record, Taylor was one of my all-time favorite NFL players. There are only a handful of athletes whose abilities leave me in awe. One of them was Sean Taylor—a modern-day Jack Tatum with the speed of Redskin great Darrell Green.
I first took notice of Taylor when he played for Miami in the National Championship Game against my Ohio State Buckeyes. He had two picks that night, and totally shut down the middle of the field.
In a game flush with future first-round draft picks, Taylor was the best of the bunch.
As a fan, I was devastated to learn Monday morning that Taylor had been shot. Sadly, I can't say I was totally surprised.
The stories of Taylor's wild youth in Miami—threatening people with guns, picking up a DUI charge—painted a picture of man who wasn't as mature as his body suggested.
To his credit, Taylor seemed to go through a transformation in recent years—particularly after the birth of his daughter Jackie. He was beginning to grow—not just as a player, but as a man.
It's the kind of story I can relate to.
I was never an All-American college football player, but I was a highly-regarded soccer player coming out of high school—and had a lot at stake during my senior year of high school.
I was also a class-A knucklehead.
I've had four teammates die prematurely; I have friends I consider brothers in prison. It took me a long time to finally grow up. That's why you'll often hear me defend those in need of second chances.
I'm living proof that people really can turn their lives around. Unfortunately, it’s probable (and I don’t mean to speculate) that Taylor couldn't escape the past he was trying so hard to distance himself from.
I read a great piece in SI recently on Michael Vick and his entourage, and why it's so hard to leave the neighborhood homies you grew up with. One of the more interesting points the author made is that promising young athletes are sheltered from illegal activities by local hustlers—with the understanding that it'll be payback time once they make it big.
As a side note, you see the same phenomenon in hip-hop. I grew up during what's referred to as the golden age of hip-hop—and every time one of my favorite rappers blew up, he had to take care of two or three guys in his crew.
Nas had the “Bravehearts,” Jay-Z put Beanie Siegel on, and, more recently, Atlanta rapper Young Jeezy formed a group with his less talented hangers-on—“USDA.”
But back to the point. The timing of Taylor’s homicide couldn’t have been worse. Here was a young man who was finally beginning to turn his life around when the streets may have caught up with him.
Like Kane in the movie Menace II Society, Taylor couldn’t escape his past. According to Taylor's childhood friend and Hurricanes teammate Antrell Rolle, the Redskins star had a lot of people after him—and lived in fear whenever he was in the Miami area.
My opinion doesn’t mean a whole lot, and I don't want to be the star of this article, but I think my own experiences give me some insight here.
I expect that the police investigation will reveal a connection between Taylor's killer and his troubled past—but that doesn't make Taylor's death any less senseless or horrific.
I've listened to arrogant sports radio blowhards dismiss Taylor's murder with statements like, “Live by gun, die by the gun”—basically claiming that Taylor got what was coming to him.
Let’s not forget that not only have the Redskins lost their best player—they've lost a friend and a brother. And what concerns me most is that Taylor's young daughter Jackie will grow up without a father.
When I think about her, and how pointless the tragedy seems, there's one word I just can't get out of my head: