Like Mike Vick and Pacman Jones who were unable to extract themselves from their pre-celebrity athlete lives, did Sean Taylor’s past catch up with him in a fatal way on Sunday night?
While teammates and coaches to a man have said Taylor had made great strides in personal growth over the past 18 months since the birth of his daughter, he did have a checkered past.
Taylor was arrested in Fairfax County for DUI in 2004, but that hardly makes him a hardened criminal. In June of 2005, Taylor was 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. The charges were resolved through a plea bargain.
Fast forward to November 28, 2007 when ESPN reporter Rachel Nichols said Taylor’s fiance Jackie Garcia (a niece of actor Andy Garcia) said she and Taylor were at home asleep when they heard an intruder. Garcia went to the crib to get the baby, and Taylor locked all three into their bedroom. According to Garcia via ESPN, she cowered under the covers holding the baby while the intruder kicked in the locked door and shot Taylor twice.
Doesn’t sound like your average burglary, now does it? Last night, the Miami-Dade police department said nothing about the incident suggested that Taylor was a victim of anything but random violence. When queried about the shooter kicking in the locked bedroom door, the answer had something to do with cat burglars being “more dangerous.”
Is anybody buying that?
ESPN columnist Jemel Hill pointed out yesterday, “the leading cause of death for black men 15 to 24 is homicide.” Taylor was 24. So if you’re suspicious about the circumstances surrounding Taylor’s death, you’re not alone.
We aren’t suggesting Taylor was at fault in any way other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are however posing the question: Did Taylor’s past come back to haunt him? Was someone he’d crossed paths with some years ago looking for revenge or to end his career with gunshots to the groin and/or leg?
Perhaps Taylor should have simply abandoned South Florida where the spider web of past transgressions was thickest and most complicated? While his Miami neighborhood has been described in some media outlets as “tony” and “posh,” it ultimately may prove to have been too close to his pre-NFL life. Too close geographically, if nothing else.
Perhaps all Taylor needed to do was move. Revenge shooters don’t typically drive 20 hours, leaving their comfort zone, to “wound” their nemesis, and, of course, these days you can’t tote a gun on a plane. We say wound simply because shooting someone in the leg is statistically unlikely to be fatal. So either the shooter was looking to simply injure or maim, or he/she is a terribly bad close range shot.
After all, a guy like Taylor with a base salary of $1.25 million can live almost anywhere he wants. Then there’s the initial signing bonus of $7.2 million and subsequent option bonuses of $4.475 million in 2005 and $640,000 in 2006, so Taylor could obviously afford to relocate comfortably.
But, on human and emotional terms, it's not that easy to abandon one’s roots, not to mention the folks that were there for you before you were rich and famous. Just ask Vick and Jones. They may not be right, but in this crazy world loyalty remains a valued attribute. We can fault them for stupid decisions, but not for being loyal. Of course, Vick and Jones are still alive…
As difficult as it may have been, simply separating himself from South Florida and his past may have saved Sean Taylor’s life. We won’t know for sure until the investigation is complete. Even then, we still may not know.
Simply put, it may not be enough to leave your past behind mentally and emotionally. Sometimes changing behavior isn’t quite enough. One has to literally pack up and move. Like the AA folks say, “new playground, new playmates.”
Just the same, if Vick (whose jury trial in Virginia is now scheduled for April) and Jones’ troubles aren’t sending the message loud enough, certainly Taylor’s death is a warning that shouldn’t be ignored by other young millionaire athletes.