In the last 17 years, the University of Miami football team has laid nine of its current or former players to rest.
Early next week former Hurricane safety Sean Taylor will be the 10th.
While “The U” brought an unprecedented swagger to the college football scene in the mid-1980s, it has been a campus rocked by tragedy time and again...
* Kevin Gibbs was killed in a car accident in 1990.
* Former defensive end Shane Curry was fatally shot outside of a night club on May 4, 1992, in a dispute over a parking spot.
* Former Hurricane defensive tackle Jerome Brown and his nephew Gus were killed on June 25, 1992, when Brown lost control of his Chevy Corvette on a rain-slicked road not far from his Brooksville, FL home.
* Defensive lineman Caesar O’Neal died from complications from cancer in late 1992.
* Linebacker Marlin Barnes (former roommate of Ray Lewis) and Timwanika Lumpkins were murdered by Lumpkins’ former boyfriend on April 13, 1996.
* UM linebacker Robert Woodus was a passenger on ValuJet Flight 592, which crashed in the Florida Everglades on May 12, 1996.
* On February 16, 2002, a car accident claimed the life of senior linebacker Chris Campbell.
* In March 2003, Al Blades (brother of former ‘Canes Bennie and Brian) and Martel Johnson were killed in a car crash. Blades was not the driver.
* Defensive lineman Bryan Pata was shot and killed in a parking lot outside his apartment on November 7, 2006. The case remains unsolved.
* Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor was fatally shot by an intruder in his home on November 26, 2007.
Of all these deaths, I remember Brown's most vividly. The city of Philadelphia was in shock.
Buddy Ryan, who'd been fired the year before, wasn't able to speak through his tears. Reggie White, Seth Joyner, and Clyde Simmons wept like children.
It was something I'll never forget.
In the fall of 1992, I returned for my second semester at Knoxville College (famous alum Ralph Wiley). Ironically, my roommate was from Jerome’s hometown of Brooksville. He talked about how Brown had rallied the town behind him to protest a march by the KKK. I knew he was telling the truth, because Sports Illustrated had done a piece on it earlier in the year.
Later that fall, my dad passed away from cancer. Upon my return to campus, I had three friends from Miami, two of them brothers, who made sure I was good—whether it was money, food, whatever. They took me to the mall on my 21st birthday to get something to wear because I didn’t have a car.
We had a lot in common—except when it came to college and pro ball. The two brothers were Cowboys fans and the other was a Dolphins fan. I was down with the Eagles, of course. What's more, they were all ‘Canes fans, and I rolled with the ‘Noles.
I couldn’t even win an argument with the damn Dolphins fan—but I’ll never forget their looking out for me.
I learned in those days that a college campus is a microcosm of the real world—you’ve got a little bit of everything. Our campus was tiny, so if something happened, it spread like a bad rumor.
“The U” is no different—it's a city all its own, and tragedies happen.
I highlighted the circumstances behind the deaths of these young men because the media would have you believe that they were all troubled souls who got what was coming to them—and I find that disturbing.
I defy anyone to show me a college campus that doesn't have a problem with drugs and alcohol, sexual assaults, violence, or racism.
These men weren't angels—but who among us is?
Most of us can make mistakes without ruining our reputations—because our lives aren't played out in the public eye. We can go back to our private homes after the fact—maybe even get a good night's sleep.
For those in public view, it's not so easy.
Yes, athletes and others sacrifice much of their freedom in exchange for notoriety—but we need to remember that they're still just human beings, no less prone to making mistakes than we are.
Sadly, their transgressions aren't as easily forgiven...even in death.
Some of the coverage of Taylor's murder has been disrespectful; some columns that I've read have ticked me off. According to coaches and friends, Taylor had turned his life around. Why is that so unbelievable?
Those of us who believe in a higher power are always seeking forgiveness—so why is it so hard for some people to be forgiving?
I think that we—even myself as a writer—need to run a collective gut check before we pass judgment on people we don't even know.
I know the families of these and other young men and women would appreciate it.