In The Wake Of Sean Taylor’s Death, Closure Proving Evasive
On November 11th 2007, Washington Redskins S Sean Taylor sustained a knee injury that necessitated his early exit from a 33-25 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. As Taylor headed to the locker room, game coverage switched to a camera behind the Pro Bowler as he slowly strolled through a tunnel and disappeared from the field. It was, unimaginably, the last time I would see Sean Taylor, and it was the last time the majority of football fans would see him. The knee injury knocked Taylor out for a few weeks, and while recovering, he was shot by a home intruder on November 26th 2007. Taylor died a day later; he was but 24 years old.
In such tragic scenarios, it is easy, maybe even common, to commit the victim to some sort of athletic martyrdom, thereby exaggerating their actual abilities; Taylor’s talent, though, is difficult to overstate. A 6-2, 230 pound athletic freak, Taylor had the size to inflict tremendous harm on an offense’s skill players and the speed to chase down running backs or wide receivers who evaded all other ‘Skins defenders. There was virtually no one Taylor couldn’t cover. He could have been the elusive defensive answer to the massive, athletic tight ends taking over NFL passing attacks. Instead of defensive coordinators getting night-sweats dreaming of Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates, opposing tight ends would have had nightmares about Taylor. In Taylor’s four seasons in Washington, his presence in the secondary had become something of an ever-present security blanket for failed assignments by his defensive colleagues and a serious consequence for opposing receivers daring to roam into his line of fire. To this day, when an opposing ball carrier slashes through the defense, I mutter to myself “get him Superfreak” (a nickname I used when referring to Taylor) and await the game-saving arrival of the ‘Skins’ ultimate defender. But the superhero, the guy that mitigated everyone else’s mistakes and offered comfort to nervous fans and coaches, no longer arrives.
Consider this: Taylor had the speed and ball hawking talents of Ed Reed and hit like Ronnie Lott and Jake Tatum. I’ll be even more direct: Taylor was on his way to the Hall of Fame, being the greatest defensive player in ‘Skins history and perhaps the best safety in the NFL — ever. Those aren’t statements based on sympathy, emotion or some nostalgia-filtered recollection of a tragic figure — they are fact. However, instead of seeing his potential through, realizing his enormous promise and thrilling football fans along the way, Taylor’s life was tragically and senselessly taken at age 24. He would have turned 30 on April 1st of this year.
As the six-year anniversary of Taylor’s death approaches, there is something that has become more glaringly absent than even his missing presence in the ‘Skins secondary: justice. The trial for those accused of Taylor’s murder has been postponed nine times and is currently scheduled to take place later this summer (we’ll see). I can’t imagine the stress and anguish the rolling court dates, the “maybe this time” and false starts have caused for Taylor’s family. What I can speak to is the frustration and anger that still lingers within the nation of ‘Skins supporters who still adore Taylor. Robert Griffin III and last year’s NFC East title was a welcomed distraction and provided some evidence that the franchise isn’t cursed, but poor secondary play, particularly at safety, has been an on-going issue since Taylor’s death and a constant reminder of the talent that was snatched from the franchise.
Beyond the gridiron, Taylor had matured into a young man that Washington D.C. was about to fall madly in love with. After a few transgressions in his early 20’s, Taylor had, by all accounts, grown from a brash young stud into a leader, a fiancé and a man fundamentally changed by the birth of his daughter (something any father worth his chops completely gets). His four years in Washington were good for both player and team, and the relationship seemed possible of creating a special bond between athlete and professional hometown. How deep could D.C.’s affection for its budding football star have grown? Sadly, it’s another Taylor question that will never be answered.
The one open Taylor issue that remains unresolved and absolutely must be addressed is what will become of the perpetrators of this heinous act. First and foremost, the family deserves whatever closure can be obtained from justice being served. The ‘Skins franchise needs a final verdict as well. Someone killed Taylor. Someone snuffed out a young man’s, a young father’s and a transcendent football player’s life. Everyone that loved Taylor the man and football player is chasing the peace associated with the assailants being properly tried in a court of law and brought to justice. Until that happens, an unsettled feeling will persist; bitterness and anger will remain raw. The falling of a judge’s gavel won’t make the negative emotions suddenly subside, but it will at least provide comfort knowing those responsible for this horrible tragedy received their penance. Several suspects are in custody, and have been in custody for a very long time; six years and nine trial delays is enough. Taylor made a professional career out of levying swift, fair and unapologetic justice to those daring to cross his path on a football field. It’s embarrassing that due process of those accused of his murder couldn’t be administered in the same way.