Publishing this five-year old-piece by guest blogger Mathew Brown for three reasons: 1) It seems forgotten that Sean Taylor wasn’t the universally beloved Redskins fan favorite he’s made out to be. 2) It allows me to link to that time my brother torched Wilbon. 3) Taylor’s quote in the ninth paragraph raises the hair right up off my arms.
Redskins safety Sean Taylor died early Tuesday morning of a gunshot wound he suffered the previous night. He was shot in his Miami home, underwent seven hours of surgery, but eventually succumbed to the wounds he suffered. Doctors said he lost too much blood, the bullet having severed his femoral artery.
There isn’t a lot you can do when you hear that someone you care about died. You can try to console those closest to the deceased, and you can seek consolation. If you are one of the closest, you just try to cope the best you can. You remember the good times, and you try to think of funny stories, and pleasant memories. The more you like someone, the more you love them, the harder it is to deal with the loss.
But what if you hated the person? Or at least, what if you thought you did? It gets even more confusing. I was one of Sean Taylor’s harshest critics during his career, attacking the flaws in his game and the flaws in his character.
On the field, I thought he was an overrated headhunter. He had immense talent, but he hadn’t gotten the chance to perfect his game yet. He was a player who would rather make the big play than the smart play. He was a player who didn’t want to form tackle — he wanted to be a human projectile. Some fans loved this about him, but I thought that he was easily faked out because of his style. He often lost his cool, racking up senseless penalties for roughness and late hits. In his lowest moment on the field, he was ejected for spitting in an opponent’s face during a 2006 playoff game.
Off the field, I saw a thug. That’s the word people have been tossing around in the aftermath of the shooting, and I admit I called him it. In 2005, he allegedly showed up at a person’s house with automatic weapons, and shoved a gun in the man’s face because Taylor suspected him of stealing his ATVs, and beat him. But honestly, this incident only mattered to me in that it reaffirmed what I thought of him as a player: violent and reckless.
For better or for worse, that characterization is also what drew Redskins fans to him. Sean wanted to hurt the opposition, and in football, that is usually a good thing. He was the lightning rod for fans and critics alike. He was your favorite player and your opponent’s worst enemy. He was the one who determined the direction of the franchise on any given Sunday, and it wasn’t just because of his talented game or his highlight reel plays, which were numerous over his brief career. No other player on the Redskins had the ability to change the team’s outcome with his attitude. He changed games with his play, but more with the way he played.
I called my uncle when I first read he was shot, around 10:15 on Monday morning. I’ve never called my uncle, and here I was, speaking in a hushed, solemn tone that he needs to start checking the news. I don’t know Sean Taylor, and I thought I didn’t even like him, and when I heard the news I called a family member with grave concern. I couldn’t explain that.
I became obsessed with the story as it was developing. I followed the breaks and the updates, and listened to the rumors. I heard conflicting words, like “coma” and “unconscious.” I read that it was a botched burglary, and I read that it was a targeted attack. I read Michael Wilbon’s incredibly ill-timed and inconsiderate remarks about how the news was “hardly surprising” given Taylor’s “embrace of a violent world.” While that analysis may or may not be true, I know what I think of a man who writes those words about someone dying of a gunshot wound suffered in his own home.
During training camp this year, Sean displayed deep maturity during one of his rare interviews. When speaking about the game itself, and how he played, he said, “I just take this job very seriously. It’s almost like you play a kid’s game for a king’s ransom. And if you don’t take it serious enough, eventually, one day, you’re going to say, ‘Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.’” It’s quite sad that we’ll never find out what he could have done, because I would have liked to see that.
I feel guilty for having such ill will towards someone I never met and who had never personally wronged me. My friends who grew up obsessed with the Redskins were in shambles over this, and I had been stepping on him all these years. I felt remorse, and I felt a genuine loss. I realized that the NFL needs players like Sean Taylor who put a team on their back week in and week out. I don’t hate Sean Taylor. I never did. But it took his death for me to see just how much I respected him, and how much those around me cared for him.
Redskins fans are not mourning the lost talent of a Pro-Bowl safety. Talent comes and goes from teams on a weekly basis. No, today they mourn the death of their silent leader; a man whose actions always spoke louder than his words. They mourn the death of a man they cared about. Strangely enough, so do I.
(Image taken with love from Santana Moss of all people.)