If we can’t see athletes as human beings, why do we?

On November 26, 2007, Sean Taylor was shot at his home by an intruder in the Washington Redskins. The bullet severed Taylor’s femoral artery and he died the next day. He was 24 years old.

While Taylor was in critical condition, Michael Welbone was from Washington Post This was to say in an online chat (via Barry Petschsky at Deadspin’s).

McLean, Virginia: Would your opinion of Taylor change if he didn’t turn into a random accident (like a home invasion)?

Michael Wilbone: No… People’s opinions are shaped by the way they were brought up, the way they see the world, what they know about the world in which the person in question was raised, etc. Sean Taylor isn’t the only guy I know who fits his overall profile. I’ve known men like Taylor my whole life, and I’ve grown up with some. They still have shades of gray and shouldn’t be painted black and white… I know how I feel about Taylor, and this latest news isn’t surprising at all, not to me. Whether this incident was random or not, Taylor grew up in a violent world and embraced it and claimed that he loved running in it and refused to divorce himself from it. It’s not the first and it won’t be the last. We have no idea what happened, or whether what we know now will be reviewed later. It’s sad, yes, but it’s not surprising.

Wilbone wrote this right after Taylor’s death.

I wasn’t surprised in the least when I heard the news Monday morning that Sean Taylor had been shot in his home by an intruder. Angry? Yeah. surprised? Not even a little. It was only in June 2006 that Taylor, originally charged with a felony, called for no competition in the battery charge assault after brandishing a gun during a fight over who had seized his ATVs in Florida. Then, an angry crew stopped at Taylor & Sons and pumped at least 15 bullets into his SUV. So why would anyone be surprised? If it was Shawn Springs, I would have been shocked. But not Sean Taylor…

…coincidence? We have no idea, not yet anyway. It can be a random act, an intrusion, something that happens every day in america, something that can happen to any of us no matter how safe our area is. It could just be that. But would I be surprised if it was more than that, if there was an obvious reason Taylor was sleeping with sickle under his bed? sickle. Although his lawyer and friend Richard Sharpsten says his instincts tell him “this wasn’t murder or injury,” would it surprise me if Taylor was specifically targeted? Not even a little.

That’s what Colin Cord, ESPN Radio Personality said on November 27.

Sean Taylor, great player. He has a history of really bad judgment, and really bad judgment. Cops, assault, spit, DUI. Am I supposed to believe that his judgment has improved significantly in a couple of years, from terrible to wonderful? “But Colin, it’s cleaning up his business.” Well, just because you cleaned the carpet doesn’t mean you took out everything. Sometimes you have spots, and things are too deep to ever let go.

My gut feeling is this story, and we said yesterday, yesterday wasn’t really a day to get out, yesterday was kind of a, you know, sad day, but we’re past the memorial part. Time to mature, ask yourself realistic questions….just because someone is cleaning the carpet doesn’t mean there are no stains. No matter what those commercials, OxiClean, tell you on cable TV, you just can’t get rid of some spots. And if you’ve had bad judgment for 23 years of your life, even if you clean them up, your judgment won’t become good overnight.

Oct 7, 2007; Landover, Maryland, USA; Safety Washington Redskins Shawn Taylor (21) celebrates with a interception against the Detroit Lions with teammate Corner Shawn Springs (24) at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. Jeff Burke USA Today Sports

Coward, two days later.

No, all information is not included [on whether Taylor’s murder was random]. But I am quite confident that my gut feeling, like any of yours, by the way, was correct and he was right.

As it turns out, Taylor’s death was the result of a random break-in, with the criminals responsible finding Taylor asleep in his bed.

November 30, 2008 Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Redskins retreating Clinton Portes (26) holds a flag with former safety number Sean Taylor during Shawn Taylor’s fame gala before the game against the New York Giants at FedEx Field. James Lang USA Today Sports

Welbone and Coward should have waited for the facts before tossing their finished novels out there, but they didn’t, and they had no problem doing it that way. None of their careers were affected. When NFL Films Produced a File football life An episode about Taylor, producer Eric Powers reached out to 28 people for interviews. The movie ended up talking about 41 people, because a lot of people wanted to share their memories.

Welbone and Cord were the only two people who declined to be interviewed. Apparently, their audacity dried up.

why? Why was this seen as acceptable at all? Young, successful and with a complex past, Wilbone and Coward have given free rein as are generally the case with your less enlightened critics, but there is also the unfortunate and more general fact that when it comes to professional athletes, we have them covered. They often fail to understand and remember that they are human – they have the same kinds of greatness, weaknesses, and complications that we all have.

When Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was asked about Taylor’s death, he said the only thing that should have been said.

“We will miss him. I am not talking about him as a player. I am talking about him as a person.”

This particularly shocked me on a Saturday morning, when I read the news of the death of Dwayne Haskins, another college star who had practiced in the nation’s capital for some time, when he was hit by a car. Like Taylor, Haskins was 24 years old.

And like Taylor, Haskins and his family underwent a media “eulogy” that no one should have tolerated.

There was this eventually deleted tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schifter, which broke the story:

And there was all that was from NFL scout legend Jill Brandt, which we can put up there with the worst of Welbone and Coward.

“I hate it anytime anyone gets killed or anyone dies, but he was a man who lives to die, so to speak,” Brandt told SIRIUSXM NFL Radio hosts Vic Carruci and Dan Leberfeld when asked about Haskins. They told him, do not leave school early under any circumstances. You don’t have work habits, you don’t have that, you don’t have that. what did he do? Leave school early. I’ll always remember this – we invited the guys to the draft. He was one of the players we invited to participate in the draft. We were told, “No, we’re going to have our own party.” How his party was a bowling alley party, he charges $50 to get into the bowling alley for his party.

“It was always a thing, you know? It was one of those things. I’m never a hacker, but they keep calling me a hacker. That’s what it is. It’s a tragic thing – any time anyone dies, it’s tragic – especially When you are 24 years old, and your whole life is ahead of you.

“But maybe if he stays in school for a year, he won’t do silly things. When you run down a highway, on a road like this, it leaves him… If someone has two drinks, he’s a bit on the right side of the road, and gets injured and killed, it’s easy for that to happen.”

We’ll leave that in place, except to say Brandt’s words reflect a callous disregard for the true story that Welbone and Cord told all those years in regards to Taylor.

Dwayne Haskins celebrates his touchdown to Michigan on November 24, 2018. Guild Columbus Dispatch

Except for saying that “but maybe if he stayed in school for a year, he wouldn’t do silly things.” It is as bad a look as you can create for yourself in such a situation. You have to be a little on the right side of the road, says Brandt, to even think about going there in the first place. You have to be willing, easily and carelessly, to take what you think you know about an athlete and combine it with what you think you know about his death before the truth comes out.

As for the shifter? He probably fell into a very easy trap, where we as reporters and analysts see the athletes we cover as tools. Either he found out about it, or someone at ESPN helped him figure it out, and installed a trail of deleted tweets.

It is just as likely as was the case with Welbone and Cord that neither Schefter nor Brandt would suffer any professional consequences for their actions.

In case anyone was interested, here’s what really happened on the morning of April 9, 2022:

So, 14 years, four months, and 13 days between the deaths of Sean Taylor and Dwayne Haskins, we have two guys who died at the age of 24 in Florida, played for the NFL in the nation’s capital, and were posthumously attacked. By prominent people in the field who have nothing to say what they said. The circumstances of their deaths were completely different, which makes the post-mortem processes in the media even more offensive. We don’t just confuse the death of any young black man into the phrase “Well, he might have come;” We don’t seem to understand that a person’s past may have no bearing whatsoever on their future, no matter how short that future may be.

Jason Wright, the current head of Washington’s leaders, put it forward as it could be put.

I’d like to think I’m better than this. But I’ve spent the past month writing as many scouting reports as possible for my 2022 draft predictions, and since I don’t delve into personal matters like player effort or player mindset because I can’t figure out these things on tape, my human scout reports are said to be no different than if I write About dishwashers or wireless headphones for a consumer website.

This headphone has 20% more bass response. This edge pusher has 20% more curvature around the arc.

It’s no different, except that the “things” I’m writing about are… yanno… Persons.

It’s very easy to depersonalize the players we’re covering. Sometimes it’s the best and most objective way to do it. But on occasions like the deaths of Dwayne Haskins and Sean Taylor, it’s probably best to stop for a moment and wonder how you would like a 24-year-old man from your family to die in the public eye before you vomit. About things you never knew.

In times like these, a personal approach is the only way.

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