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Reflections: the death of Sean Taylor

Sean Taylor, stand-out safety for the Washington Redskins, died early on the morning of November 27, 2007 at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. He was just twenty-four years old. Taylor was shot before dawn Monday the 26th, by an apparent intruder (who remains unidentified). Taylor's girlfriend and 1-year-old daughter were in the house at the time, but escaped unharmed.

Originally there was a glimmer of hope that the Pro-Bowl safety, an exceptional athlete in peak condition, might survive the grievous wounds he received. At one point, doctors announced that Taylor seemed to be able to respond to simple instructions.

Unfortunately, even professional sports superstars are mortal like the rest of us. Sean Taylor leaves behind many friends, relatives, teammates and fans saddened by his tragic death.

His was a short, thrilling life that ended on the upswing. He was the Redskin's first pick (fifth overall)in the 2004 NFL draft, on the heels of an All-American season at the University of Miami. His college coach Randy Shannon reflects, "He was passionate about everything he did and was a great friend to his teammates."

NY Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma, also a Miami alum, stated: "He was a great teammate and an even greater person. It is so hard for me to fathom that I am not going to be able to pick up the phone to call him." Another all-star Miami player, Redskins' Clinton Portis felt his teammate had achieved a new maturity since the birth of his daughter: "He was always smiling, always happy, always talking about his child."

Taylor's Redskins career started out rocky. He was charged with DUI after a late-night party during his first season. Those charges were later dismissed. In 2005 he was accused of brandishing a gun during a disagreement near the player's home. He eventually pled no contest and served 18 months probation.

His on-field actions incited nearly as much trouble, most notably when he incurred a $17,000 fine for spitting at an opponent's face during a 2006 playoff game. Taylor suffered at least a half-dozen other fines for late hits, uniform violations and assorted team infractions during his first three seasons.

Fans loved the hard-hitting safety's ferocious playing style. Fellow players respected his love of the game, and his speed and strength on defense. Opponents tried to stay out of his way. Although Taylor led the NFL in missed tackles in 2006, the respect of his peers won him a trip to Hawaii for the 2006 Pro Bowl. Assistant coach Gregg Williams lamented that nearly every big play was mitigated by a blown assignment, but still called Taylor one of the best athletes he'd ever coached.

Funeral services for Sean Taylor will take place next week, after the logistics of team commitments are worked out. Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner, said the league will honor Taylor's memory at this weekend's games. Impromptu memorials have already begun to appear as friends and fans mourn their loss. In a statement on behalf of the family, Sean's father, Pedro Taylor, said "It is with deep regret that a young man had to come to his end so soon."

Sean Taylor's death makes three by gunfire in the last twelve months. Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams died after a drive-by shooting on New Years Day. Bryan Pata, University of Miami defensive lineman, was shot to death in November of last year, not far from Taylor's home. Whatever the circumstances surrounding each of these (unrelated) incidents, all such deaths leave sadness and shock in their wake. These are young men in the prime of life, filled with the promise of potential greatness, now gone.

Taylor rarely gave interviews, but during training camp he stated: "I just take this job very seriously. It's almost like, you play a kid's game for a king's ransom. And if you don't take it serious enough, eventually one day you're going to say, 'Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.'" Today, all of Sean Taylor's "could've done's" are history. He will be missed, on the field and off.

[Source material from the Associated Press and ESPN News]
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