Reading accounts of the life and tragic death of Sean Taylor is both heartwarming and depressing. From a troubled, violent and dangerous past, emerged a thoughtful, caring family man, teammate and friend. A real team leader. Taylor had so much to live for -- a baby daughter, a career in the NFL -- yet he died so unnecessarily.
Death is never an easy subject. Not only do we have a young, professional athlete cut down in his absolute prime, we're dealing with many other related issues (fame, money, violence, race). Perhaps Taylor's murder is a senseless, random tragedy. Mike Wilbon offers a very different view, first offered in a WashPost.com chat:
I know how I feel about Taylor, and this latest news isn’t surprising in the least, not to me. Whether this incident is or isn’t random, Taylor grew up in a violent world, embraced it, claimed it, loved to run in it and refused to divorce himself from it. He ain’t the first and won’t be the last. We have no idea what happened, or if what we know now will be revised later. It’s sad, yes, but hardly surprising.
Chris Mottram, who blogs Mr. Irrelevant, reacted to Wilbon's comments: "Sure, Taylor’s had some troubles in the past, but that’s like suggesting the slutty girl from high school deserved to be raped."
If you want to believe Sean Taylor's murder was completely senseless and random, that's fine. There's nothing that will bring Taylor back, so there's not much value in playing Monday morning quarterback (or Tues, Wed, Thur, etc. for that matter). Just reduce the talking points to: "It was a senseless tragedy." And, "God had other plans for this young man." On the other hand, if you believe there's a pattern here, this might be an opportunity to have an important, constructive dialog. Wilbon's initial chatter was probably a bit raw, but in the more measured world of column writing (a craft he happens to still be very good at) he expanded on his views. He also points out some of the similaries to Len Bias's tragic death.
The issue of separating yourself from a harmful environment is a recurring theme in the life of black men. It has nothing to do with football, or Sean Taylor or even sports. To frame it as a sports issue is as insulting as it is naive. Most of us, perhaps even the great majority of us who grew up in big urban communities, have to make a decision at some point to hang out or get out.
The kid who becomes a pharmaceutical rep has the same call to make as the lawyer or delivery guy or accountant or sportswriter or football player: Cut off anybody who might do harm, even those who have been friends from the sandbox, or go along to get along.
What we have here is another one of those Rorschach Ink Blot tests, where the meaning of Sean Talyor's murder is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. Sean Taylor, RIP.