Taylor's Death Is Tragic but Not Surprising

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 27, 2007; 12:28 PM

A few years ago, I was allowed to spend what became a thoroughly illuminating afternoon at the NFL's rookie symposium, then, a four-day session held at Lansdowne Resort near Leesburg. Every drafted rookie was and still is required to attend an annual event designed to prepare the players for a wide variety of issues they would soon be facing as highly visible professional athletes.

One of the more compelling elements that day was a series of skits put on by a professional acting troupe based in New York. A wide variety of scenarios was played out on the stage; from a scene in a club showing an athlete losing his temper when his girlfriend was groped by a drunken bar fly to a young player confronted by his larcenous cousin wanting him to buy a recently stolen sound system at a very reduced rate.

At the dramatic high point of each presentation, at about the time the player would have to make a very critical and potentially life-altering decision, a voice offstage would scream out "FREEZE!!!!!" and the actors literally stopped and became living, breathing statues. At that point, a discussion leader stepped out and opened the floor to comments and questions on how the fictional player would have, and should have handled that situation.

Consequences was the theme of the day. Everything you do has consequences, and even more so when you are young, rich and a highly visible professional athlete.

I've been thinking about that symposium ever since the news broke Monday morning that Sean Taylor, the Redskins Pro Bowl safety had been shot in an apparent burglary attempt at his home in a suburban Miami neighborhood. Tragically, Taylor died early Tuesday morning from a bullet that severed the femoral artery in his groin area. The massive loss of blood was too much for even this seemingly superbly conditioned athlete to overcome.

He was only 24, the father of an 18-month-old baby girl who was also in the house along with her mother, Taylor's girlfriend. And this was for real. No symposium. No actors. No questions and answers from the audience, and certainly no one around to yell "FREEZE!!!! before the madness in Miami escalated into murder. The consequence of who knows what?

At the moment, it is far too soon to draw any conclusions as to how or why this tragedy occurred, why another young black man is now dead from a gunshot wound in his own home, why another athlete, Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, and now Sean Taylor becomes headline news for all the wrong reasons.

Certainly it would be terribly easy to rush toward some sort of instant judgment based on what we think we all knew about Taylor and the sort of life he once, and for all we know, still led. But really, we know nothing at the moment, and until we do, "may he rest in peace" ought to be the operative phrase for this day.

Still, could anyone honestly say they never saw this coming? You'd have to be blind not to consider Taylor's checkered past. It was only a few months after he was drafted, when we got something of an inkling of what sort of young man the Redskins were selecting out of the University of Miami with the fifth overall selection in 2004.

For one, Taylor brazenly skipped the rookie symposium he was required to attend his first year, and was fined accordingly by the NFL. You also can look at the timeline of his professional life printed on this web site or in the newspaper and draw your own preliminary conclusions.

Over the first few years Taylor was in the league, he bounced from one scrape to another, blowing off the symposium, disrespecting Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs by not showing up for mandatory offseason workouts and never calling to explain why, running afoul of the law in a widely reported shooting incident in South Florida and very nearly going to jail.

On the field, Taylor often was a thoroughly undisciplined player who loved to make bold statements with vicious and often dangerous hits that occasionally got him tossed from games. Clearly, he seemed to embrace the thug image on and off the field, and the fact that he rarely spoke to members of the media only enhanced his reputation as a moody, enigmatic athlete we hardly ever got to know.

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