Learning the Lessons Sean Taylor Left Behind

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Learning the Lessons Sean Taylor Left Behind

ONE OF US

I didn’t know Sean Taylor personally. I never met the guy. I saw him play a few times in person and caught a few of his seldom given interviews. I knew little about him as a person other than he was a quiet guy who seemed to keep to himself. 

As far as Sean Taylor the football player goes, I knew everything there was to know about him. I had seen his high school videos on YouTube, kept track of his stats at the University of Miami, and never missed a game of his while he was a Washington Redskin.

I watched him unleash absolute fear in the eyes and hearts of opponents as he would throw himself recklessly like a car thrown off a truck barreling 100 miles per hour down the freeway. To say the collisions he had on the field were severe would be an understatement. 

Washington DC area fans became enamored with Taylor for many of the same reasons that I did. We would collectively cheer for No. 21 and swap high fives after he would make a big play. As fans, we became so emotionally involved with many of the players that we would refer to them by their first name; a bit of an oddity in sports.

Clinton Portis was “CP”, Santana Moss was always referred to as Santana, and the same held true for Sean.

I wondered why we spoke of these players as if we knew them; as if we were in the Mark Wahlberg movie, Invincible, where a common friend from the neighborhood makes the hometown football team as a complete walk on. Why was it that we felt like each of the players were part of our crew or group? 

ESCAPE

I came to the realization that for the vast majority of fans, the 60 minutes of football that we watch each week is our escape from everything. We get away from the stresses of work, marital issues, health, or money problems, and an array of others. 

During those 60 minutes, we step into a dimension where it’s just us, our fellow fans, and our football team.  It is no wonder that even during a victory, a bit of me would feel sad that the game was winding to a close. I didn’t want games to end, win or loss, because it meant that I had to snap back to reality. 

However, last year I learned that I was wrong. We only fool ourselves when we think we have escaped life and its ordeals when we watch a game of football. You see, I thought that for that one hour, I was in a sports world where the everyday matters don’t exist. 

I wasn’t alone in this thought.  But that all changed on Nov. 26, 2007 when death reared its ugly head in sports and showed me how foolish I was; the day it showed me that we may think we’ve temporarily fled the problems, but the problems haven’t left us.

THE EVENING NEWS

The news of Sean Taylor being shot in his Florida home spread like wildfire. Every local news station in my area of Northern Virginia was carrying the story. I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but for this town, nothing was more important at the time. I remember my Blackberry buzzing non-stop from friends and family, asking if I had heard. 

Of course I had.

As coverage rolled on about Taylor’s condition worsening, the thought of death was far from my head.  In my mind, Taylor had been shot, was going to have surgery, would recover and all would be normal again. While it was true that Taylor’s condition was dire, the possibility of him dying was foreign to me. He was too powerful to die. Wasn’t going to happen.

Ironically, just nine months and seven days earlier, my thought process was parallel.  As I watched medics perform CPR on my father, unsuccessfully, I kept thinking that any minute, things were to return to normal. He would be revived and all would continue; the world would be right again.

I was wrong then, and on Nov. 27, 2008, I was wrong about Sean Taylor.

EMOTIONS

I still vividly remember seeing Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator at the time, choke up as he spoke of Taylor. Word was that Williams was especially close to Taylor and had an integral part in helping him mature as he grew older as a man. Various other players were interviewed, all solemn and with little to say. 

While I never knew Taylor in person, I remember feeling nauseous and sick to my stomach as I read the line, “Sean Taylor Pronounced Dead” along the bottom of the screen as the news anchor reported. 

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say with some certainty that you—reading this article—have at one point or another dealt with someone’s passing; whether it be a parent, grandparent, sibling, uncle, aunt, or friend. We all know the feeling, and it is one that cannot be described in words. It is an emotion for which there is no definition.

The city of Washington DC and its surrounding areas, millions of households, felt that emotion on Nov. 27 when the news of Sean Taylor’s death broke. Millions of households felt the pain of knowing a man’s life was senselessly taken, leaving his wife a widow and his daughter without a father, over something as petty as monetary belongings that a few young men decided were more worthwhile than life itself.  

The death of Sean Taylor defined the word tragedy.   

NEVER THE SAME

Like things always have and always will, life continues on. The Washington Redskins came together to heal their wounds as a team and play out the rest of the season with the grit and determination that No. 21 would have. Joe Gibbs later described the remainder of the season as the toughest coaching job he had ever had.

The Redskins went on to make the playoffs, only to lose to the Seattle Seahawks in the wild-card round, putting an end to a 2007 season that won’t be remembered for on the field accomplishments, but for an off the field loss.

Almost a full year later, we are more than halfway through another NFL season. The Washington Redskins are a surprising 7-4 with playoff aspirations. Fans still pack restaurants, bars, and FedEx Field to show their unwavering support for the current team.

Though time has flown by for the rest of the NFL, ask any Washington Redskin fan what the team is missing and the answer will immediately be “No. 21”. 

I remember a few games into the season, my friend Peter sent me a text message during a Redskins game in which they were winning, “Can you imagine if we had Taylor back there?!” I am sure those exact words have been uttered thousands of times in the past couple of months.

Unfortunately, things will never be the same.

A LIFE LESSON LEFT BEHIND

While it was not my intention to make this article into a pompous, “let me tell you what to do with your life” type of piece in which I offer advice on how to go about your business, I wanted to make sure that we do not let the lessons we learned from Sean Taylor’s passing go in vane. 

On Sundays, we look to get our release and our escape from the monotony of everyday life. The fact of the matter is, we shouldn’t look to do that because we can’t. It’s impossible. I’ve tried for all 25 years that are my existence and it’s not possible to do.

The reality is our time on earth is valuable and precious. Some of us that are here today won’t be here tomorrow. Without going into a sermon, let me just remind you that sometimes we live our life too fast—doing too many things at once and lose sight of things that matter. 

I myself am guilty as any of doing this. With my constant eye on the stock market ticker or my annoying habit of clicking through emails on my Blackberry—even at dinner—I lose sight of the important things in life. 

I don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that the one year anniversary of Sean Taylor’s death is on Thanksgiving Day. I really don’t. 

It was less than two seasons ago that my father and I were slapping fives, hooting and hollering in our family room as Sean Taylor laid out some wide receiver. Now, in a scenario I never predicted, both are gone. 

So, as we sit down on this once a year occasion that is Thanksgiving, let’s not let the life education left behind by the tragedy of last year, along with the many others we have all experienced, go to waste. 

Just like we make sure to remember our favorite football team’s season schedule or our favorite player’s stat line, we should make sure to also remember what’s important to those that are close to us. While football seasons start fresh every year, we only get one shot at life. 

None of us are Superman. None of us are perfect. Don’t let the trivial things get you hung up. Life’s too short. Life’s too fragile. 

That’s what 21 taught us.

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