Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Anyone who has ever dealt with the loss of a loved one can understand the greater plight of moving forward. It is a long and arduous march to some form of normalcy, even though that missing energy never returns. It is also something that can never just be understood from a distance. Unfortunately, the only way that someone can ‘get it’ is when he or she endures it. Yet, there are some deaths that are unique from others, though loss hurts all the same. In the realm of entertainment, one’s passing starts as a private moment within family and close friend before it is announced to the general public. It is at this point, fairly or not, where that passing seems extraordinary.

As the NFL deals with a second murder in 2007, there are questions abound on how players, coaches and managers will honor the life of Washington Redskins’ star safety Sean Taylor. Because of their occupations, the healing process differs in that before millions of people watch them take on the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, they have to spend the remainder of the week trying to prepare for the game. They can’t take days off during the week as we could. Add the rare instance of two games in a five-day span; the team must exert all of their being into what will be the most difficult – and emotional – period in franchise history.

Sean Taylor’s death has been and will be discussed at length for weeks to come in light of what has already been a challenging year for the NFL. He was the fourth active player to have died since the start of this year. Darrent Williams was killed after leaving a New Year’s Eve party in Denver. Nearly two months later, his Broncos teammate, Damien Nash, collapsed and died during a charity basketball game for his younger brother, a heart transplant recipient. In May, the New England Patriots lost Marquise Hill, due to a JetSki accident on Lake Pontchartrain (bordering his hometown of New Orleans). Besides their employer and their ethnicities, each man had one other commonality; they were all twenty-four years old.

As details about the circumstances of his death slowly come out, a fraternity of former teammates from his Pop Warner days to the University of Miami to Washington will strengthen through grief. The inquisitive and opinionated media will discuss how the Redskins will inevitably have to replace their best player as well as get ready for this challenging period. The fans will show up to mourn as a civic community, to question or appreciate how the team moves forward and to remind each other how today should be cherished as if tomorrow is never promised. This public process has no timetable, but it will raise concerns.

There have always been people who have asked why the death of an athlete should matter more than the death of an everyday Joe, Jaquon or Jane. Some will try to remind others that people die every second of the day and it’s a part of life. The issue with this train of thought is that it assumes that the masses believe the death of a public figure is more important, more significant and more meaningful than that of a private individual. This train of thought also falls in line of questioning why people celebrate these figures as opposed to lawyers, doctors and teachers in the first place. What isn’t said is that much of the reason that we slow down when an athlete dies is that we don’t fully know who the person was. Athletes are expected to be fearless and superhuman in their performances, but invincible and quiet when the lights are off. When those young athletes, along with Joe Kennedy, Josh Hancock and many other active players over the years passed on, it may have been the first time that we encountered anything to do with the human beings they leave outside of competition.

In discussing this with friends today, many sentiments were shared. A violent death of another young black male. His prior transgressions off the field. Potential starting to be realized during practice and game action. All of this rings true, but what should have jumped out from the start was that Taylor’s violent end stopped him from turning the corner away from the game. In a short amount of time, he became one of the few people in the world that could perform - let alone excel - at his job, be rewarded handsomely and yet, still have time to become better. More importantly, from all accounts of his colleagues, friends and family, he was beginning to make right with his previous wrongs. Becoming a father last year was singled out by all who reflected on his personal growth. No one knew how far exactly he was moving away from his run-ins with the law in his early seasons. No one knew the kind of player he was going to become as he was eschewing those poor decisions that led to warnings and fines from the league. Yet, regardless of how closely we pay attention or quickly we dismiss it, we can all understand that Sean Taylor didn’t have enough time to let us know.

Say What?!?!: From the Washington Post.

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