When the Redskins drafted Sean Taylor on April 24, 2004, I screamed. I was in college, watching the draft and couldn’t have been more excited. Until that point, I hadn’t yelled like that for a single Redskins’ moment since going to RFK Stadium with my father as a kid.
But when he was killed five years ago, a part of my love for the team went with him. It wasn’t solely because of his athletic ability: Taylor was a player that many people, particularly young black men, could relate to well. He was familiar; that kid from your ’hood that made it.
Of course, he wasn’t without 'baggage,” as many liked to put it. Some thought he was too aggressive, too brash and not mature enough.In his second year, he was fined for wearing the wrong socks and spitting on a guy during a game.
Before that, he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence while returning from a birthday party. Later, he was labeled a person of interest in an incident involving guns and stolen sport-utility vehicles in Florida.
Because of this off-field troubles, he might not have lasted long in the league if he hadn’t been a great player. But he made it past them and became the family man he'd always wanted to be. Indeed, Taylor was the guy that you could root for even when he might not deserve it.
Although not many of us are blessed with world-class athletic ability, loss of someone at such a young age are something that too many of us are forced to deal with. Be it murder, incarceration or drug use, the reason Sean's story hit home so hard around here is because it was all too familiar.
Brutally unfair violent deaths are still just another part of life for black people, especially men.
Taylor was only 2 years younger than I was when he died. I think every man that's grown up in a place where random and not-so-random violence is a regular threat has been forced to deal with their own mortality in a jarring way.
In a world full of inequalities, violent loss of life is always top of mind for black men. You're taught from early age that if you do the so-called right thing, you can make it past the pitfalls that doom so many low-income communities across America. For some people, it's the only hope they have.
So I don't ask “why?” when it comes to Sean Taylor. I never asked why my older cousin was gunned down when I was a child. And as gross as it sounds, I rarely ask why when I read of the dozens of slayings that occur in this city on a regular basis, regardless of race. The reason is because quite frankly, the why doesn’t matter.
And after that fateful day, a memorial to him that went up at the Brookland Metro station that has still never been buffed — an incredible show of respect. While a lot of outsiders called Taylor a thug, a loose cannon and a criminal, we loved him.
And his death was another grim reminder that no matter how far black boys and men get in life, no matter how many people like you, it can end in a violent second for too, too many. Ask any brother under 35 who their favorite Redskins player is. I'll bet you lunch that a majority of them will tell you it's #21. Why? Because in a sense, he was all of us.
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