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The Message Of Sean Taylor
JIM TROTTER
December 10, 2007
HE HAD been dead for less than nine hours, the victim of an apparent break-in gone awry at his $900,000 home in a Miami suburb, when The Washington Post put up a column on its website under the headline TAYLOR'S DEATH IS TRAGIC BUT NOT SURPRISING. Portions of the Nov. 27 column were as jarring as the headline, particularly the passage, "Could anyone honestly say they never saw this coming? You'd have to be blind not to consider Taylor's checkered past."
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December 10, 2007

The Message Of Sean Taylor

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HE HAD been dead for less than nine hours, the victim of an apparent break-in gone awry at his $900,000 home in a Miami suburb, when The Washington Post put up a column on its website under the headline TAYLOR'S DEATH IS TRAGIC BUT NOT SURPRISING. Portions of the Nov. 27 column were as jarring as the headline, particularly the passage, "Could anyone honestly say they never saw this coming? You'd have to be blind not to consider Taylor's checkered past."

So much for resting in peace.

SEAN TAYLOR, who was the fifth pick in the 2004 NFL draft and arguably the Redskins' best player this season, did have various run-ins with the law and the league during his first two pro seasons. But, even before Taylor's death, teammates, family and friends regarded those incidents as the actions of a young adult coping with the demands that come with sudden fame, fortune and celebrity. They were aware that over the last year and a half Taylor had matured and taken steps to change his ways, prompted by the birth of his daughter, Jackie, in May 2006.

That Taylor was somehow culpable in his own death, as the Post column suggested, struck a nerve with readers. At best the column was insensitive and premature, some wrote. At worst it was incendiary and racist, considering police had found no evidence of a link between Taylor's past and his death. Yet the Post was far from being the only media outlet to raise the possibility that the death of the 24-year-old Pro Bowl safety was directly tied to his past. Numerous others, including SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, had speculated that once the dots were connected, the story of a violent young man who had failed to escape his past would emerge.

Last Friday, however, three days after Taylor died from a single bullet wound to the leg, Miami-Dade County police director Robert Parker provided a different account when he announced the arrest of four males—three of them teenagers—from the Fort Myers, Fla., area and charged them with unpremeditated murder, home invasion with a deadly weapon and armed burglary.

"They were expecting a residence that was not occupied," Parker said of the assailants, "so murder or shooting someone was not their initial motive."

Two of the four men arrested—Jason Mitchell, 19, and Charles Wardlow, 18—appear to have been familiar with Taylor's house and loosely acquainted with the family. Mitchell, according to a report in The Miami Herald, had attended a birthday party for Taylor's half sister, Sasha Johnson, at Taylor's Palmetto Bay home, where Mitchell later mowed the lawn. Wardlow is the cousin of Johnson's boyfriend. Mitchell, Wardlow and the two other men charged, Venjah Hunte, 20, and Eric Rivera, 17, have prior arrest records.

According to police, the assailants broke into the home around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 26.On many nights during the football season the house would have been unoccupied. But Taylor, recovering from a knee injury, had not accompanied the Redskins to Tampa Bay for their game against the Buccaneers the previous afternoon. Instead, he had spent the day in Palmetto Bay with his fiancée, Jackie Garcia, and their daughter. All three were sleeping in the same bedroom when they were awakened by a noise inside the house. Taylor reportedly grabbed a machete from under his bed, and started for the bedroom door. He never made it out of the room. One of the robbers shot Taylor in the groin—the bullet ripped open his femoral artery, which resulted in so much blood loss that Taylor died the following morning despite seven hours of surgery.

"What does Sean's past have to do with what happened here?'' Redskins tackle Chris Samuels told SI's Peter King two days later. "Sean was in bed by nine o'clock that night with his family, knowing he had to get up the next day to get treatment on his knee. I am telling you Sean was not a thug. He was a victim in his own bedroom. That's what we need to focus on. How in this great country can a man be asleep in his own bedroom, get shot, and in the media it's like he did something wrong to deserve this?''

IN THE age of the 24-hour news cycle, there is pressure to advance a story even when there are no new facts to report. Consequently, speculation too often replaces actual reporting, and truth occasionally takes a backseat to supposition.

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