So, since my body is still sort of on east coast time, I awoke early this morning and attempted to make myself busy before my 2 o’clock appointment. Having about six hours to kill, I poured myself a bowl of Raisin Bran–I need the fiber–and clicked on the TV, only to have my appetite basically ruined:
“Sean Taylor: 1983-2007″
I knew Taylor had been shot in the leg after an attempted burglary, and I knew he had been in critical condition as of last night, but I found myself shocked that he succumbed to the injury. And though I knew he wasn’t that much older than me, I couldn’t help but stare at the dates that bracketed the dash of his life. We could have been teammates; not in the “if I had the goods to be a pro way” but in the “we could have been on the same high school team” way. Though I generally pride myself on my cynicism, especially when it comes to life in what scholars and others call the post-modern moment, I found myself staring at a bowl of soggy Raisin Bran feeling hurt, a actual visceral discomfort.
That we regard pro athletes as our Greek gods, as our superheroes is a revelation to absolutely no one. These few men and women can do things the rest of us can only gasp at. But while we gasp, there’s a part of our brain that causes us to forget matters of simple science. We forget that these individuals age as we do, that the sun and moon and tides and nature affects them as it affects us. Sure, Life may have dealt them a different hand than the majority of us, but Life also makes sure the hands are even in the end. If this tragedy tells us anything, it is that these gladiators, though superhuman, are not more super than they are human.
In the next few days, I don’t doubt that people will recall Taylor’s off the field issues that had made his tenure in the NFL complicated. Drunkeness. Gun charges. Those circumstances and facts are what they are and I will certainly not be the person to attempt revisionist history in that regard. But according to his teammates and friends, he was turning a corner and was abruptly met with a fate that no one deserves.
While there are many questions to be asked in this case, mine is this: Can a public figure ever run far enough away? Taylor, at home recovering from an on the filed injury, was gunned down while, I assume, attempting to prevent a robbery in his home, his 900,000 dollar home. I would imagine that other such homes were in that neighborhood, which only leads me to believe that his assailants were targeting him in particular. They didn’t want to rob a house, they wanted to rob Sean Taylor’s house, and, as in some sick coup de grace, they knocked him down a peg–hell, they knocked him off the board entirely–by taking his life.
So often, we talk about athletes bringing negative attention to themselves for violent incidents–many of which they could and should have avoided–but pay little attention when trouble comes to find them, when trouble won’t let them leave tough neighborhoods and terrible circumstances. This isn’t an argument for Michael Vick–his is somewhat different–this is an argument for individuals at that difficult intersection of celebrity. More than the masses love to see a star rise is to see one fall, though this pleasure is generally taken from stars that fall by their own accord. And without getting wrapped up in the sociological ramifications–which volumes have been written on–I’ll posit this: Black athletes, particularly those from impoverished backgrounds, are at a greater danger for acts of violence not only because many do not attempt to distance themselves from that life, but also because the anger and contempt felt by those in that community gets wrongly directed at them. Rather than taking a good long look at the myriad factors that brought about the plight, the angry, desperate and fed-up simply say, “So and So, that nigga ain’t shit. He think he ’cause he got some money, that he better than somebody. I’ll show that nigga what a real nigga look like.”
Perhaps this is why individuals such as T.I. will risk their freedom stockpiling weapons in their home. Granted, T.I. probably went entirely overboard and the law says he’ll have to face the music, BUT his is not a paranoia borne of his imagination; it is borne of the police blotter. I’m willing to bet T.I. and others saw this, and after shaking their head, muttered, “See? Do you see why I did it?”
Here’s a hammer sentence for you: Sean Taylor, 24 year-old professional football player, millionaire, father of a one-year old girl and husand-to-be, was shot in his 900,000 dollar home in his 900,000 dollar-home neighborhood, attempting to prevent a robbery that was, more likely than not, targeted at his home deliberately.
Gladiators can fight, but how far can they run? Peace to 21.