When I covered the New York Giants as a beat man for Newsday in the '80s, I must have had five conversations with the late George Young, the team's wise general manager, about the long-term fate of Lawrence Taylor. I'd tell him, "You're going to wake up one day 10 years down the road, pick up the New York Times on your doorstep and it'll read, 'Giants' Taylor Dies in Fiery Car Wreck.''' Young never tried to talk me out of that one. It sounds morbid, I know, but Taylor was the ultimate living-on-the-edge athlete, the Mike Tyson of the NFL.
What a sad coincidence, then, that Taylor, 51, is in very hot water today for sexual assault, which, of course, is what sent Tyson up the river. The news of Taylor's arrest on rape charges in New York is as sordid as it gets -- authorities in Ramapo charged him today with the third-degree rape of a 16-year-old runaway in a hotel -- and we must allow the legal system to run its course before jumping to conclusions about Taylor's culpability. But it certainly doesn't sound good. I wish I could say it surprises me, but nothing sordid about the greatest defensive player in Giants history ever would.
I have so many memories from those four years covering Taylor, both on and off the field. I remember Joe Morris, the underdog running back, seething about Bill Parcells having a different set of rules for Taylor, and Parcells certainly did. I remember owner Wellington Mara, who felt so indebted to Taylor for what he did for the team, always helping him get treatment for his substance-abuse demons. I remember Taylor crossing the picket line in 1987, enraging some in the union, and playing tight end and linebacker in basically a pickup game against the Buffalo Bills, with seven penalties called on the Bills for fouls on Taylor, and Mara getting emotional over Taylor's loyalty to the team. I remember being with Taylor at a banquet once, and he was so gallant, kissing my wife's hand when he met her and being such a gentleman all night.
A complicated picture of the man emerges, obviously. But it's a picture that, to me, is too much like the picture of Ben Roethlisberger we saw drawn in the excellent Jack McCallum profile in Sports Illustrated this week. Reporter David Epstein, who was on the ground in Pittsburgh for several days reporting the story, said he heard the continual refrain from those who'd been around Roethlisberger in social settings, at bars and clubs. Roethlisberger, indignant if the free drinks or perks were not flowing, would say in these places, "Do you know who I am?''
I don't think Taylor had to say that very much. He was such a man of intrigue and mystery, and so beloved by Giants fans for delivering the franchise's first Super Bowl win, that I think the red carpet was always rolled out for him. A life of entitlement, even in retirement, was probably something he came to expect. And who knows what led to what at a hotel in a small town in New York. But the first thing I thought of was the life of entitlement, the do-you-know-who-I-am ethos that has gotten so many athletes in trouble over the years.
If this story proves true, I hope those athletes with an overflowing sense of entitlement -- and they know who they are -- would heed this one and the Roethlisberger incident as a clarion call to think twice and be more stringent about how they live their lives. I hope it happens, but I've been doing this job for 30 years, and I'm not confident it will.