The events of today and yesterday reminded me of the flak Kellen Winslow, Jr., caught after a loss at Miami. He referred to himself as a warrior, and was met by much derision. Yet, of course, the players are referred to as "gladiators" who "go into battle" "in the trenches" by the expert commentators each Saturday and Sunday. Winslow was a close friend and former teammate of Sean Taylor.
This morning served as a wakeup call. As a Ravens fan, even I felt punched in the stomach by the news that Sean Taylor had passed during the night. I was willing to make ATV and salary cap jokes yesterday afternoon, when I thought he would survive.
Most likely, I was reminded of the mortality of my family and friends. I have been lucky enough to enjoy a life relatively free of grief. Sean Taylor, himself, did not mean very much to me, but he represents the idea that anyone can lose anyone they admire, identify with, or cheer for at any moment. The idea of it happening in one's own bedroom with one's own girlfriend and offspring was especially jarring.
b;ahalablahblahblahblahblah Yeah! Hurt somebody!
(With all apologies to Wilbon who prefers to use "I wasn't surprised" as a way to point out that young black men are dying young everywhere. Wilbon's forgiven. His point needs to be made, but this scenario might not match well.)
NFL players are not warriors or gladiators. They do not go into battle. If they did, we would expect them to die. When they do die, or experience a spinal injury, or fight dogs in their spare time, or murder their pregnant ex-girlfriend, or stumble out of an Atlanta-Buckhead club while two of their posse-mates fatally stab people, or get shot in the ass or neck, or smuggle a human's weight in weed, or kill someone in a drunken accident, we hurt. We feel personally injured.
Why is that?
Think about it. We all know that guy. That guy who lives and dies with X college or NFL team. His entire existence, from car flags to basement shrine, is defined by the ups and downs of a defined number of people (most of whom are of a different race or physical build or intellectual composition) who play under that guy's colors due to chance (the draft, recruiting) or circumstance (free agency, transfer).
Anybody who knows me knows that I love the NFL more than I love most of my family members. My point is not to make some kind of statement about society, nor the Fall of Rome, nor capitalism, nor slavery. Just put this loss in perspective. Unless you met Sean Taylor, you just lost a good free safety via non-football means. Just like when Sam Mills of Carolina got cancer and Samari Rolle showed epilepsy, and Derrick Thomas died in a car accident, no fan can cope when their favorite number is lost off the field.
Did you ever think to wonder why the method of tribute always involves the player's number? Sean Taylor, the man, is not the source of grief in Washington. Number 21 is gone, and he will be sorely missed. Number 21 was an integral part of the Washington fanbase. Life/football without Number 21 is unimaginable.
I seriously heard people wonder if the game this week would be cancelled. Why? Because Sean Taylor died? No. Because Number 21 died, and that might have a negative impact on his teammates' ability to score points and limit the points scored by the opposition.
Sean Taylor is just another young urban black male murdered. Number 21 is a hero who the entire NFL will honor Thursday, Sunday and Monday.