Unanswered questions with hasty conclusions

November 28, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, said it as well as it could be said. The sudden, violent, premature death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, he said yesterday, "leaves many people behind struggling to understand it."

I'm struggling. Everyone is struggling. The struggle has taken some to places they should be ashamed to have gone.

There are no answers. There are a lot of questions, a lot of speculation, a lot of conclusions. But everyone who thinks he or she has the answer needs to shut up and recognize that if there ever is one, it might not make any sense whatsoever and might not satisfy us at all.

For me, the struggle starts with this: With everybody seemingly having guns, and everybody who doesn't have one seemingly wanting one, are any of us safe? Poor or rich, shady past or clean, dangerous or comfortable surroundings, loving or absent family, famous or anonymous. Not a one of us should be so secure in our lives to think this can't happen to us or so arrogant to believe it won't.

Until something concrete is discovered that definitively links anything Taylor did previously in his life to what happened in the bedroom of his South Florida home - and that means an A-caused-B connection - nobody has the right to make that leap. There's nothing out there now that tells us that he did anything to bring this upon himself.

Someone, according to reports, broke into his house and, with his fiancee and 18-month-old daughter cowering under the bedcovers, blasted Taylor away. Taylor was where every critic of every reputedly entitled celebrity says he should have been and no place where he should not have been.

Many a big-name personality has discovered that walking away, crawling into the cocoon, embracing home and family, guarantees nothing. John Lennon wasn't out looking for trouble in front of his New York apartment building that night 27 years ago next month.

Not much has changed since then, except that a lot more break-ins and altercations are now accompanied by gunfire. Add that to the list of things we all have to struggle with. Taylor's reputation preceded him and now, it's apparent, follows him into eternity. But he wasn't the one who had the gun early Monday morning. The person who murdered him did.

Parts of Taylor's life have been public record, but not all. Not even his football families with the Redskins and the University of Miami, all fiercely loyal to him, could claim to know everything about him, because he made a point to not share everything with everybody.

Add that to the struggle. Plenty already have passed judgment based on ridiculously superficial signs such as how many personal fouls and NFL fines he piled up and how little he spoke to reporters. Complex personalities make death even more mysterious. So some take shortcuts, and in the process of confirming their shallow perceptions, they do the dead a disservice.

Those shallow perceptions overshadow the fact that the endangered athlete is as disturbing a story today as athletes endangering others. The idea that rich, easily identifiable pro athletes are choice targets for thieves, stalkers, psychopaths and killers seems to be lost on some observers in this case, in ways it wouldn't be if this had happened to, say, Brad Pitt.

Lately, athletes have become double victims, first of criminals, then of a public that shoves them into the tiny boxes of their own prejudices. Bryan Pata a year ago, Darrent Williams on New Year's morning and Memphis football player Taylor Bradford this fall were slain, and were initially scrutinized for complicity in their own deaths. The armed break-ins and robberies of NBA players Antoine Walker and Eddy Curry this summer sparked no wave of commentary or debate, while athletes committing crimes fed news cycles for months at a time.

Such reactions, especially in the bewildering hours since Taylor's shooting, paint an ugly picture of the sports public. In yearning to express something, anything, about an incomprehensible situation, we inadvertently express more about our own insensitivity and inhumanity.

No matter who Sean Taylor was or what life he might have led, he did not deserve to die at age 24 the way he did.

We struggle to understand, yet every time we say we do, we prove that we don't.


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