Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Grieving Sucks

I have been struggling. I was having difficulty concentrating. I have had little energy.

Maybe it is the culmination of several things, but I think most of all, it is that I am grieving. I had to euthanize my family pet of fifteen years in mid-November. What hit me most was when I realized that my two sons never woke a day on this earth without him. But once the boys got over it, I did too. No, what is hurting me now is how cheated I feel. I keep thinking about how short Sean Taylor’s life was and what a great blow it is to the Redskins.

It has been over a week since Taylor died and I am starting to get some energy back. I watched his funeral on TIVO--correctly guessing it would go overtime--and feel even more cheated. He was a great football player and a good person who let the media define him. The media love negative stories and so they mistook his quiet humbleness for antisocial behavior. They mistook his ferocity on the football field for a gangster mentality. They mistook his attempt to recover property that was stolen from him as hood mentality. They mistook a DUI arrest as a DUI conviction, which never happened.

Why didn’t we know about his deeply felt faith when he was alive? Why didn’t we know about all of the money and time he donated to youth sports programs in his community? Why didn’t we know that everybody on his teams truly loved this guy? Not just Redskins, but all of the Miami players around the NFL. Jeremy Shockey was at the funeral yesterday and was completely broken up. Several Ravens were distraught because they had to play a game last night and would miss his funeral. Ray Lewis cried during the moment of silence. McGahee and Reed huddled with Lewis prior to kickoff to pay tribute (play video)to Taylor and then all three went out and played inspired football and nearly beat the Patriots. McGahee rushed for 138 yards.

Why didn't we know that when the media covered his high school football team, Taylor--who scored 44 touchdowns (a Florida record), rushed for 1300 yeards, made over 200 tackles, and led his team to the Florida HS state championship--didn't want to talk about himself? Instead he gave credit to his teammates and talked about how tough his opponent was.

Why didn’t we know about his Herculean work ethic? Gibbs talked about how he would show up at Redskins Park well in advance of when the players were due and find Sean drenched in sweat because he was running laps around the park. Shannon, Taylor’s DB coach at Miami, talked about how he kept crossing paths with Taylor when giving motivational speeches to youths near Miami in the offseason but how he never ran into him. Then, he saw a note on his desk on campus one day from Taylor and he asked his assistant when Sean left it. She said he works out nearly every day on campus late at night. We hear from Gregg Williams that he would stay late studying film; from Joe Theismann that Sean asked him to stay late so he could tutor Sean on what quarterbacks look for in safety play and how to disguise coverage; from Clinton Portis how he would try to coax Sean to go clubbing at night. Taylor would always say he’d meet Clinton, but tell Clinton the next day that he fell asleep early. We hear from Reed Doughty, who was second string at Sean’s position and so played on the scout team. When Doughty had a mild knee sprain Taylor told him to rest it and Taylor took Doughty’s reps with the scout team after practicing with the starters. Why didn’t we know these things? Because unlike many stars, Taylor didn’t promote himself. Unlike many stars, he avoided the camera. And, so the guys behind the cameras, with limited information, made his story a negative one.

I was going to write a separate post on the outrageous media coverage of his death, but I could barely concentrate. How dare guys like Len Shapiro, Michael Wilbon, Peter King, and Colin Cowherd intimate or downright speculate that Taylor somehow got what was coming to him. Oh, King backpedaled like crazy in this week’s MMQB column, but the one thing King never said was “I am sorry.” On last week’s Inside the NFL show on HBO, King had no problem saying this horseshit: “A friend of a very prominent NFL player that I know said he distanced himself from Taylor...blah, blah, blah.” Of course he was trying to create the impression that Taylor was a bad dude. At least Costas had the good sense to immediately jump in each time after King was finished to say, “We are taping on Tuesday, so we really don’t know the facts.”

By the way, two of those guys have Hall of Fame votes. It's another example of why the NFL should reclaim the privilege to induct its players.

The mayor of Taylor’s hometown, who eulogized so eloquently yesterday, spoke for me:
"One of the things that I hope comes out of this tragedy is that the media get a small lesson in grace and humility," said Florida City mayor Otis Wallace, a friend of the Taylor family. "For those who took the liberty of recklessly speculating that this young man's death was caused by the way he lived, all I can say is they should be ashamed."

Readers of this Blog know how happy I was when the Redskins signed London Fletcher this offseason. Fletcher is a tackling machine with excellent leadership abilities. He spoke for me twice this week. First, about the leadership the Skins wanted to see from him:

'Why'd you need me? You already got a great leader, and it's Sean Taylor,''' Fletcher told SI.com ... "I mean, he loved football. If we were on the sidelines during practice, he'd run out to take some scout-team reps. We're getting beat bad in New England, and he's saying in the huddle, 'I don't care what the score is! Keep playing, keep playing.' Last week, before Thanksgiving, he's in the trainers' room, getting treatment, he's telling everyone in there to have a great Thanksgiving and enjoy the time with their family. That's a leader.''

(Ed note: As I watched that Patriots game I started to get angry that the Redskins weren’t fighting in the fourth quarter as the Pats ran up the score. It was right around that point that Taylor started a fight with Vrabel, the Pats all-everything linebacker, who was playing on kickoff coverage (kickoff coverage!!!!) with the score 52-7. Taylor spoke for me that day.)

Finally, Fletcher also spoke for me when he said this:

"I thought he could have been the best safety in the history of pro football,'' Fletcher said. "He was 6-3, fierce, a hard-hitter, a great cover guy, great speed for a guy his size, great ball skills, incredibly instinctive and had a great passion for the game. Teams didn't challenge him deep. It's no secret why we've given up so many explosive plays in the middle of the field the last two weeks -- it's because Sean wasn't there.''

I still have a hard time choking back tears when I replay this four-minute tribute, which was shown before the Dec. 2 Bills game at Fed Ex Field; there wasn't a dry Redskin-fan eye in the house. The most difficult parts for me are when Taylor runs down the tunnel with Moss and Portis (because it won’t happen again), when he thanks God for getting a chance to play for the Redskins, and when he dives in the end zone in Philadelphia to clinch the Skins only playoff appearance in his short tenure. It is not a highlight film. A highlight film would haven taken hours.


At December 05, 2007 9:20 PM, Blogger Ben Folsom said...

Outstanding piece. I am sorry for your family's loss of your pet. My folks had to put down our 19 year old cat and 16 year old dog within just a year of each other and the stress and sadness this visited upon them is part of the reason my family does not have pets yet.

Sean Taylor will be missed.


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