who wrote the column on the Post's website, acknowledged on Monday that he
wishes he'd had more time to cull information and that the aforementioned
passage was "a little bit harsh." He said he received a call at 8:30
the morning that Taylor died asking if he could pull together something for the
website. He filed his column roughly four hours later, then watched a news
conference at which Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and team owner Dan Snyder spoke of
how Taylor had been changing his life. Shapiro said he saw players echo that
sentiment in other news reports. "I wish, in retrospect, I had toned [the
column] down a little bit," said Shapiro. "In the responses [from
readers of the column], people are saying, 'You're writing that he deserves
this.' That's the furthest thing from the truth. That bothers me."
To be sure, Taylor
had an enigmatic personality. Those close to him described a fun-loving,
polite, even shy individual while acknowledging that he could be hot-tempered
and emotional—behavior that plagued his first couple of years in the league.
His name popped up on a police blotter twice: in October 2004, when he was
arrested for suspicion of drunken driving (the charge was dismissed for lack of
probable cause); and in June '05, when he was charged with aggravated assault,
a felony, and misdemeanor battery after he allegedly pulled a gun during a
fight over two ATVs that he claimed had been stolen from him (he pleaded no
contest and the charges were reduced to misdemeanor counts of assault and
battery). He also was disciplined by the NFL at least six times for illegal
hits, uniform violations, skipping a portion of the mandatory rookie symposium
and spitting in the face of an opponent.
Since then he had
reduced his already tight inner circle to an even smaller group of family and
friends, and, according to Gibbs, "had a growing relationship with the
Lord." But Taylor rarely granted interviews to the media, which could
partially explain why people viewed him through a prism that was as narrow as
it was jaded.
Redskins played the Cardinals on Oct. 21, there was talk in the Arizona locker
room that Taylor could be baited into penalties. Cardinals cornerback Antrel
Rolle (page 100), who played youth football with Taylor and teamed with him in
the secondary at the University of Miami for two seasons, cautioned them that
they were thinking of the old Sean. The new Sean, Rolle insisted, was smarter
than that, more levelheaded. Taylor showed as much, with five tackles, one pass
defensed and an interception that he returned 48 yards to set up Washington's
first score in a 21--19 victory.
This, however, was
not the predominant image of Taylor that was presented to the public in the
days following his death.
IN THE media's
haste to connect the dots in the Taylor case, comparisons with Atlanta Falcons
quarterback Michael Vick were invoked on more than one occasion. Vick, who in
August pleaded guilty to conspiracy to operate a dogfighting enterprise and is
presently in prison while awaiting sentencing, is a young, black football star
who stiff-armed the efforts of outsiders to distance him from questionable
friends and associates, many of whom he had grown up with. Vick was, several
leading voices in the African-American community offered, the victim of
"ghetto loyalty" (SI, Nov. 26), taken down by obligations he felt
toward his friends from the 'hood. In truth, besides their youth, race and
profession, Taylor and Vick had little in common.
Vick grew up in
the projects of Newport News, Va., attended a public high school and has cited
his mother, Brenda, who worked at Kmart and drove a school bus, as the primary
parental influence during his childhood. Taylor grew up in a middle-class
neighborhood of Miami, attended a private school and grew up in the home of his
father, Pedro, a police officer who is now the chief of police in Florida City.
(Vick's parents married when their son was five, but have since separated and
Michael has long had a frosty relationship with his father. Taylor's parents
divorced when he was three, but Sean was in regular contact with his mother and
never been a thug a day in his life—far, very, very far from it," says
Rolle. "Of course he did some dumb things in his past, everyone knows that.
But he also paid his dues for those things and grew up, so let it go."
When it comes to
the coverage of African-American professional athletes, particularly those who
are found to have broken the law or league rules, race is never far from the
discussion. Early accounts of Taylor's death were no exception. Did some media
outlets jump to conclusions simply because he was a young black athlete who had
gotten into trouble in the past? Did Taylor simply fit a convenient, race-based
template that says that when a black athlete gets into trouble, he must be a
with the media is, we always want to blend everything and make everything
connect, and sometimes things just don't connect," says Ryan McNeil, who
was a cornerback in the NFL for 11 years and now publishes OverTime Magazine, a
lifestyle and business publication for current and former pro athletes.
"Sometimes it is what it is, and that's hard to accept for the ESPNs of the
world who want to be first [with the story]. They're the 800-pound gorilla, and
they want to keep putting it out there, putting it out there.