Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The death of Sean Taylor, tragic but sadly “predictable”

The sports industry’ $6 billion economic engine known as the National Football League is stunned today in the aftermath following the senseless death of Sean Taylor. Taylor, the fifth overall selection in the 2004 NFL draft was shot early Monday morning in his Miami home and died Tuesday. Anytime a 24-year old with his life ahead of himself dies is a human tragedy, but there are important lessons that can be learned from the life that Sean Taylor lived and from his passing. The reality is the life and times of Sean Taylor are much about how we are a product of our environment and the choices we make in our lives.

The Sean Taylor story that will be told over the coming days, weeks and months will be a tale of two people. Taylor's short NFL career, however, was overshadowed somewhat by controversy. He fired two of his agents, walked out of a mandatory NFL rookie symposium for which he was fined, and was accused of spitting on Cincinnati Bengals player, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who later called Taylor "a punk", during a 2004 game at FedEx Field. However, after an investigation, the NFL found nothing to substantiate the spitting allegation.

On October 27, 2004, Taylor was arrested at 2:45am for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol following a birthday party for former Redskins' receiver Rod Gardner.

A Fairfax County, Virginia judge later acquitted Taylor of the charges in March 2005, after viewing a videotape of Taylor's roadside sobriety tests that, according to the judge, failed to demonstrate obvious intoxication. Taylor was, however, convicted for refusing to take a blood alcohol test requested of him by a Virginia state police officer. Yet when this case was heard on appeal in March 2005, Taylor was acquitted of refusing to take a BAC test, due to lack of probable cause for the request.

In May, 2005, Taylor, seeking a new contract with the Redskins, was the only Redskin who refused to appear for a Redskins' training mini-camp. Redskins coach Joe Gibbs acknowledged that the Redskins had had no contact with Taylor since he returned to Miami in January, 2005, and that he had failed to return repeated phone calls to him by Gibbs and other Redskins' coaching staff. Despite his legal and other difficulties, though, Gibbs has defended the drafting of Taylor, calling the preparation that went into his selection one of the "most researched things in the history of sports.

Taylor's agent was fellow University of Miami alumnus Drew Rosenhaus, widely considered one of the most aggressive agents then representing NFL players. Rosenhaus represented Taylor in his efforts to renegotiate his Redskins' contract up until his death.

Sean Taylor faced many challenges throughout his short NFL career that only began with his 2004 rookie season. Soon after missing the 2005 Redskins mini-camp:

On June 3, 2005, Taylor was named publicly as a "person of interest" by Miami-Dade County police in regard to a Miami assault case involving firearms, and was being sought for questioning. "We need to speak to him, we don't know if he's a victim, witness or suspect," Miami-Dade police spokesman Mary Walters said. Taylor allegedly was present at, and possibly involved in, an incident on June 1, 2005 in Miami, in which bullets allegedly were fired into a stolen vehicle.

On June 5, 2005, ESPN and The Miami Herald both reported that Taylor, accompanied by his lawyer, surrendered to Miami-Dade police at approximately 10pm ET on June 4 at Miami's Cutler Ridge district police station, where he was transported to Miami's Turner Guilford Knight correctional facility. He was charged with aggravated assault with a firearm, a felony, and misdemeanor battery.

On June 5, Miami-Dade police issued a statement indicating that Taylor had been arrested for aggravated assault with a firearm (a felony) and battery (a misdemeanor), for allegedly pointing a gun at a person over a dispute over two ATVs that Taylor claimed were stolen. Taylor then allegedly left the scene, but returned shortly and punched one person.

The Associated Press reported on June 5 that Taylor was held in detention at Miami's Turner Gilford Knight correctional facility and released the evening of June 4 after posting bond of $16,500. The Miami-Dade County Clerk's Office announced that Taylor would soon be officially arraigned on the charges.

The Washington Post reported on March 3, 2006 that Taylor's trial had been postponed until April 10, 2006. Days before that date, the trial was moved back once more, this time by a week, because of conflicts with Passover and Easter celebrations.

Taylor grew up in South Florida leading Gulliver Preparatory School in Pinecrest, Florida to the Florida Class 2A State Championship in 2000. Taylor was considered the No. 1 prospect in Miami-Dade County by the Miami Herald and rated the nation’s No. 1 skill athlete and an All-American by SuperPrep. He was also an Orlando Sentinel Super Southern Team selection, the No. 1 athlete on the Florida Times-Union Super 75 list, and rated the No. 1 player in Florida by the Gainesville Sun. He was considered one of, if not the best high school football player in America when he enrolled at the University of Miami in 2001. Taylor started for the Hurricanes in their defensive secondary helping lead the team as a true freshman to the 2001 NCAA Football Championship.

One of the fictional characters created for the ESPN series Playmakers was Demetrius Harris. "D.H.", a rookie running back. With all the talent a young football player could ever hope for D.H., D.H. is everything the NFL fears in coming to play on Sunday’s. Episodes three and four of the series dubbed “The Choice” focus on the tough choices D.H. is forced to make. Now that he’s a millionaire NFL rookie his ‘boys from the hood’, are still very much a part of his lifestyle. After a shooting at a nightclub D.H. and his ‘boys’ very much a part of a shooting incident at the club, D.H. is forced to choose between doing what’s in the best interest of his teams’ owner who wants to protect the image of his team or his ‘boys from the hood’. Without hesitation, D.H. chooses his ‘boys from the hood’.

Our life being a product of the surroundings we grow up in may have played itself out at the University of Miami. In the simplest terms in the last twenty-five years (the last few years aside) the most successful college football program on the field has been the University of Miami’s football team. Off the field, the football program has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in football related revenues. However, it’s away from the football field where the football program has brought a litany of embarrassment to its students, the school’s reputation and the City of Miami.

It’s important to note that while none of the incidents listed below took place while Taylor played for the Hurricanes, they clearly illustrate the culture that existed before, during and after Taylor was a member of the University of Miami football team. They certainly highlight the culture that existed during the key formative years of Sean Taylor’s life.

•December 1986-January 1987: Following its first-ever undefeated regular season in 1986, Miami is selected to face Penn State in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl at Tempe, Ariz. In contrast to the Nittany Lions, who attended team functions in jackets and ties, Miami players spent most of the week wearing camouflage fatigues and walked out of a midweek function attended by both teams. This was probably the first time Miami began to be perceived as a "renegade" program.

•October 1988: In the first of three meetings with Notre Dame, later billed as "Catholics vs. Convicts," Miami and Notre Dame players engage in a pregame shoving match in the tunnel outside the teams' locker rooms at Notre Dame Stadium.

•December 1995: The NCAA places Miami on three years' probation, issues a postseason ban for 1995 and cuts scholarships for the next two years for violations that include an academic adviser helping 57 football players improperly receive federal grants.

•December 2000: Players from Miami and Florida — police reports say 10 to 15; eyewitnesses say closer to 40 — clash on the streets of New Orleans in the days leading to their meeting in the Sugar Bowl. No charges were filed by police.

•February 2004: Linebacker Willie Williams was one of the nation's most-prized recruits at Carol City High in Miami. The same day he signed his letter of intent with the Hurricanes, the Alachua County (Fla.) State Attorney announced Williams was being investigated for three criminal complaints stemming from a recruiting visit to the University of Florida in January. Also, a record showing 10 arrests as a juvenile, including on felony burglary charges, came to light. After months of deliberations, Miami decided to admit Williams — with conditions. He suffered an injury in practice in August 2004 and was redshirted as a freshman. He played in 10 games in 2005 but left the program this summer.

•July 11, 2004: Cornerback Antrel Rolle is arrested and charged with a felony, battery on a police officer, in connection with an early-morning incident in Coconut Grove, Fla. Rolle is suspended indefinitely. Prosecutors later decide not to pursue the case, citing problems with evidence. Rolle is reinstated.

•November 2005: A rap song with sexually explicit lyrics, performed by a group called Seventh Floor Crew, surfaces on the Internet. Coach Larry Coker confirms that Miami football players are members of the group, which recorded the song two years earlier. Athletics director Paul Dee, saying the matter would be handled internally, noted that the song was performed in private and never was intended for distribution.

•Dec. 30, 2005: Several Miami players fight with LSU players following the Tigers' 40-3 win at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, a brawl that quickly escalated into a melee in the tunnel leading from the field and had Georgia State Patrol officers intervening.

•July 21, 2006: Miami player Willie Cooper suffers superficial wounds to his buttocks after he is shot outside his residence near campus in what players contend was a robbery attempt. Safety Brandon Meriweather, one of those suspended for Saturday's brawl, returns fire at the alleged assailants. Police say he acted legally, noting Meriweather had a permit for the weapon. Three days later, coach Larry Coker says he would discourage players from having guns. "I don't really want our players to have firearms. I'd rather they would dial 911 to come and handle those types of problems," he said.

•Aug. 27, 2006: Wide receiver Ryan Moore, sent home from the Peach Bowl for violating team rules, is suspended for the first two games of 2006 for other violations. The Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office says it expects to charge Moore this week with misdemeanors stemming from an Aug. 26 fight with a woman. Moore hasn't played this season.

•Sept. 16, 2006: Shortly before the game at Louisville, virtually the entire Hurricanes' roster jumps on the Cardinals logo at midfield — an act widely viewed as a taunting gesture. Miami loses 31-7. Afterward, several Miami players chide teammates for their involvement in that incident.

•Oct. 14, 2006: A bench-clearing brawl breaks out among players on the field during the third quarter of a game against Florida International at the Orange Bowl. A total of 13 players are ejected after police and stadium security help break up the five-minute melee. TV cameras catch one Miami player wielding his helmet as a weapon and an injured FIU player swinging his crutches.

One of the greatest challenges young gifted athletes face is how they deal with fame and in Taylor’s case fortune. They are put on a pedestal from the time they played Pop Warner football, through their days as high school stars, to their time at multi-million dollar college football factories and for the future few when they’re good enough to play on Sundays. Sean Taylor’s life and how he lived that life will be dissected until there is nothing left to tear apart over the coming days and weeks. That is the nature of the 24-hour, seven day a week news cycle we live in. We love to worship our football heroes, but when they fall we rarely know how to help lift them back up.

The second part of Sean Taylor’s life was much shorter than his turbulent NFL career. Taylor’s life reportedly changed when his fiancé gave birth to their daughter Jackie a year ago. Numerous media reports talk of a different Sean Taylor, one beginning to understand what it takes to be a responsible person in today’s society.

Life is filled with second chances and the opportunity to right the wrongs in our lives. Clearly as members of the Washington Redskins noted – Sean Taylor was working at changing his life, almost trying to escape from his past.

"Sean was a dear friend to all of us. We're all like a family and it's like we lost a family member. Through this tragedy we all have to try to pull together, stay strong for each other.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to his family, his girlfriend, his little girl. It's a tough situation right now.

"Sean was a great person. I just wish that everyone had the opportunity to get a chance to know him because if you just sit down and you talk to Sean one-on-one, he's a special person, and you know, he's a great person and he had all the intentions of trying to do the right things for people in the community.

"If you just look at him from the way that he's changed in the last year, it's just been outstanding to have the opportunity to spend time with him because he's just a special person.

"He will truly be missed by all of us, we'll hold him close to our hearts, and it's just a tough situation right now,” said Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell.

"Over the last two years, I got a chance to really see him grow as a man off the field," Redskins owner Daniel Snyder offered. "Off the field, he became very, very important to me, our organization and Coach Gibbs."

"We thought we had some hope last night" when surgeons informed the group that Taylor "had made good progress and was responding but was still in extremely critical condition," Snyder said. He said he was informed of Taylor's death shortly after 5 a.m.

"This is a terrible tragedy, and we're going to miss him very, very much," he said.

Gibbs according to The Washington Post spoke of what he saw as Taylor's spiritual growth, saying, "I think he had a growing relationship with the Lord." He said Taylor, who came to the team four years ago "full of himself and young," had spent a lot of time with a team chaplain during the past couple of years and was voted by other Redskins players to a team leadership council.

"I felt like he was a real leader," Gibbs said.

That however does not erase the man Sean Taylor was before his daughter was born. With all due respect, you can make a strong argument the National Football League’s Conduct Code created by Adam “Pacman” Jones was at least in part inspired by Sean Taylor’s actions during the first part of his NFL career. Taylor remains the only player drafted by an NFL team who decided rather than attend the NFL’s rookie symposium, he’d pay the league mandated fine if an NFL rookie misses the event.

Taylor lived in an upscale gated community in South Florida – with a machete under his bed. The death of Sean Taylor was tragic but at the end of the day may have been all too predictable.

It’s sad when anyone dies, but even sadder when someone dies at such a young age and they were trying to change the choices they had made earlier in their life. Sean Taylor will never get the second chance in life that everyone deserves, and that might be the biggest tragedy in this unfortunate story.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Miami Herald, USA Today and Wikipedia.

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