Speculation on role of Taylor's past

11/28/2007 12:01 AM

11/28/2007 10:02 PM

Y ou remember him wrapped in so much armor. Muscles. Helmet. Padding. Distrust. The late Sean Taylor was known as one of the most menacing hitters in a violent game. But when the news organizations started putting his fresh face on TV screens in recent days -- no helmet, no scowl, no aura -- you couldn't help but notice this: My God, he looked like such a baby-faced child.

You can't apply logic to the illogical or reason with the unreasonable. Entangle a gunshot and death and mystery and fame, and it starts people gossiping and filing it under journalism. So now CNN and Fox and the rest rush toward the noise and add to it, trying to make sense of something that makes none. You see the awful mathematics of ''1983-2007'' on a fresh tombstone, and there isn't a lot that gets seen clearly through the subsequent sobs.

We, the media and the public, didn't know Taylor well. He didn't speak to or trust reporters, and you couldn't really blame him. But now too much of his eulogy is about his public misdeeds because he didn't give us much else. It feels wrong. It feels dirty. But it is, unfortunately.

And the echoing questions after his death become bigger because the insatiable machine must be fed and the news organizations insist on trying to apply depth and meaning and sense to the senseless. What's going on at the cursed University of Miami? What's with the crime in South Florida? What does Taylor's death say about guns, about Hurricanes, about athletes, about us?


The questions don't have any good or right answers today. They aren't even fair, especially not with an absence of facts and not when the speculation smears a city and school while a broken family weeps. But they are pretty impossible to avoid when a famous man dies too young and too publicly and too mysteriously, and he's from a place that has too much of this senselessness in its past.

Taylor had a machete under the bed in his $700,000 home? Why? Intruders allegedly tried to break in twice in a few days in a nice neighborhood? Does that suggest they were looking for him? A shot to the groin? Does this have to do with vengeance? They are the kind of questions that make you queasy and don't make this feel very much like a robbery gone awry. You'd like to think that police will get some answers, but the last UM player to die this way remains a cold case more than a year later.

And then there's this: Did Taylor's past finally catch up to him? Is that fair to ask today? If this wasn't an accident, if Taylor wasn't just an innocent victim who surprised a burglar, what in his life was so dark that someone would run the risk of the spotlight that comes from murdering the famous?

Clinton Portis always said that Taylor was the craziest Hurricane ever -- not an easy list to top, that one. One of Taylor's many agents remembers that Taylor was reckless beyond reason in college, though Taylor never found any public trouble there. But public figures aren't as one-dimensional as we make them, so these morsels of information might not be any more telling or complete than if he once gave out turkeys during a holiday season.

The past is a constant tension with today's athlete, though. The inability to cut ties with it is part of what gets Michael Vick and Pac-Man Jones wrecked. It is easy to say the rich and famous should just abandon their past upon getting rich and famous, but that isn't terribly human.

''People always want to talk about the fruit of the situation and not the root,'' Hall of Famer Michael Irvin says. ``It is probably best that you cut off all the guys you grew up with and not say another word to them. It is probably the right thing to do. But what do you do when you pick up that toothbrush, and you are alone in the mirror, and you remember that guy's mom fed you when you had nothing? You are wearing a $150,000 watch and you can't give him $5,000?''


Irvin marvels at how quickly people who didn't come from his place are to dismiss people who did.

''I'm not saying you grew up with a silver spoon in your mouth, but you had a spoon,'' he says. ``A lot of guys didn't. Where were you when we were starving? I didn't have a Christmas. I'd have cornflakes but no sugar. So I borrowed sugar from someone in the hood. And I ate my cornflakes with water. You ever felt that situation?''

Get rid of your friends -- Taylor likely heard that a lot after one of his bad public moments.

''That's easy to do when you are only living in the head,'' Irvin says. ``But when I remember someone feeding me when I didn't have anything, now we're living in my heart.''

The University of Miami's program has always lived in the heart -- passionate, emotional, loving, soaring, reckless and blinding.

That heavy heart sinks again today, so wounded and so weary.

About Dan Le Batard

Dan Le Batard


Born to Cuban immigrants and a graduate of the University of Miami, Dan Le Batard began at the Herald in 1990. He can be heard nationally on ESPN radio weekdays 4-7 PM or watched on his television show “Highly Questionable” weekdays at 4:30 PM on ESPN 2 (when he’s not suspended). 104.3 The Ticket carries an exclusive South Florida local hour of Le Batard’s radio show 3-4 PM.

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