A Flawed-Character Study

By Michael Wilbon
Monday, June 6, 2005

MIAMI Clearly, it's Sean Taylor's world and we're just renting space in it as long as he'll have us. No, we don't know whether Taylor is guilty of the two counts of felony aggravated assault with a firearm or one count of misdemeanor battery he was charged with Saturday night. But what we do know ought to scare the daylights out of the Washington Redskins because they've got as much as $40 million invested in somebody who has no regard for anything other than his own indulgence.

In the one year Taylor has been in the NFL, he's walked out early on the league's mandatory rookie symposium, earning him a $25,000 fine, fired two agents, been charged with (and later acquitted of) drunk driving, thumbed his nose at his employer numerous times, and now been charged with a felony.

What's already been proven is that Taylor has no regard for authority, doesn't have the decency to return a call to his coach, and that his word/signature means nothing. He has yet to demonstrate the first sign of responsibility or that he has any clue of what being responsible is. It's not a telemarketer whose phone calls Taylor is refusing to return; it is those of his coach, Joe Gibbs. A football player with a shred of intelligence ought to genuflect whenever Gibbs is on the line. This fool apparently thinks pro football and culture in general ought to be thankful to have him.

I suppose we could put together some psychological profile that would prominently include the fact that Taylor's father, Pedro, is a cop. Well, he isn't just a cop. He's the police chief in Florida City, Fla. So some dime-store analysis of Taylor would suggest that he's rebelling against his father for some slight, real or perceived. It wouldn't be the first time a policeman's son turned into a wanna-be gangsta, trying to show how he's keepin' it real while making between $18 million and $40 million. So far things like convention, rules and laws haven't gotten Taylor's attention.

I don't know Taylor, so I don't know what his relationship with his father is or isn't, or (if the police report is accurate) why he would jeopardize his career and, to a degree, his freedom by waving a gun in somebody's face. But it's not up to the world to make space for Taylor . . . unless the Redskins decide to let him simply run amok while they look the other way.

Granted, being a great football player doesn't need to intersect with being a choirboy. Sometimes it does, usually it doesn't. Darrell Green is the exception, not the rule. But so far Taylor is making Lawrence Taylor look like Harry Potter. Because it's doubtful Sean Taylor's behavior is going to change any time soon, the question is pretty simple for the Redskins: Is Taylor more trouble than he's worth? Is this kid so great that they'll indulge his thuggishness and insubordination?

Some teams, such as the Patriots and Eagles, would very likely just say, "Get out." You can do that in the NFL, where the teams have all the leverage because no contracts are guaranteed. They don't need anything in the way of justification to throw you out. NFL teams don't need a verdict or a trial or even formal charges to throw you out.

Maybe the Redskins aren't at that point yet. Maybe they think there's enough evidence that indicates Taylor simply needs some tough love, structure and time to grow up. He wouldn't be the first. Others have come around after troubled beginnings. But it's tough to trust the judgment of Redskins management at the moment, having heard so much about how the club wants "character guys" to build around. Sean Taylor may be one hellacious football player, but at this point, he hasn't shown he knows much about character. How did the Redskins, after all their pre-draft investigations, blow it so badly on character assessment?

Actually, this isn't an indictment of the Redskins or the University of Miami as much as it is Taylor. He's an adult, 22 years old, responsible for his own behavior. These aren't youthful indiscretions he's made. They are purposeful and intentionally defiant acts, the kind where you ride off laughing at the poor suckers who couldn't possibly be having as much fun as you are.

At this point, Taylor knows all the answers. The NFL says come to a mandatory rookie symposium; Taylor tells the NFL to go to hell and writes a check to back up his defiance. He signs a contract one minute, then says, "Too damn bad," the next and expects you to understand how offended he is. His coach calls; he doesn't call back. His coach calls again; he doesn't call back.

Why does he have to when there are sycophants and agents to facilitate his ducking of any responsibility? The Redskins have some really difficult questions to ask and answer -- of themselves. Taylor doesn't seem big on answering anything, even questions posed by his employers.

The double standards of stardom, particularly in sports and entertainment, have taught us you can get away with almost anything if you're good enough. What signal this sends to the kids isn't even a secondary concern, so this is far less a morality play than a practical matter. If Taylor is the greatest safety in the world, a whole lot will be tolerated by football and society at large, sad as that reality is. But unless this young man does a 180-degree turn, coaches, attorneys and bail bondsmen appear to be headed for some sleepless nights.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company