by the stormy present
Fri Nov 30th, 2007 at 05:01:06 AM EST
A sports star is dead. You Europeans may never have heard of him before. Hell, even though he played for the football team in my hometown, the team my father rooted for till his dying day, I'd never heard of him before either. Not much of a sports fan.
But the death of Sean Taylor points to some ugly truths that have little to do with his talents on the field. And they are relevant to us all, because it's about the world we live in, and the poverty and inequality and violence that plague it.
From the diaries - afew
I was going to put this in the Salon, but it got a little long, so here it is.
An American football player for the Washington Redskins was murdered early yesterday morning. Sean Taylor was 24 years old, shot in his upper thigh by an intruder at his home in Miami; his fiancee and their 18-month-old daughter were home but unharmed. The bullet pierced Taylor's femoral artery and he lost a massive amount of blood, but survived the initial surgery. But he didn't make it.
By all accounts, Taylor had run with a rough crowd in his past; the son of a Florida police chief, he had had more than one run-in with the law, and he pleaded guilty to armed assault and battery in June of last year. But his coaches and friends say since the birth of his daughter, he had really turned his life around.
Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon has some sobering thoughts on the crime:
Dying Young, Black
If you're hoping to read about the on-field exploits of Sean Taylor, or a retrospective of his time with the Washington Redskins, it would probably be better if you cast your eyes to a piece elsewhere in this newspaper.
Seriously, you should stop right here.
Because we're going to have a different conversation in this space -- about the violent and senseless nature of the act that took his life, about trying to change course when those around you might not embrace such a change, about dying young and black in America, about getting the hell out of Dodge if at all possible.
There are a lot of things we don't know about what happened to Sean Taylor, starting with who killed him and why. He was shot in the groin. That's probably personal. Maybe it was a burglary gone bad, but maybe not. But it doesn't really matter, does it? He's still dead.
You see, just because Taylor was changing his life, don't assume the people who pumped 15 bullets into his SUV a couple of years ago were in the process of changing theirs. Maybe it was them, maybe not. Maybe it was somebody else who had a beef with Taylor a year earlier, maybe not. Maybe it was retribution or envy or some volatile combination.
Here's something we know: People close to Taylor, people he trusted to advise him, told him he'd be better off if he left South Florida, that anybody looking for him could find him in the suburbs of Miami just as easily as they could have found him at the U a few years ago. I'm told that Taylor was told to go north, to forget about Miami. I can understand why he would want to have a spot in or near his home town, but I sure wish he hadn't.
The issue of separating yourself from a harmful environment is a recurring theme in the life of black men. It has nothing to do with football, or Sean Taylor or even sports. To frame it as a sports issue is as insulting as it is naive. Most of us, perhaps even the great majority of us who grew up in big urban communities, have to make a decision at some point to hang out or get out.
The kid who becomes a pharmaceutical rep has the same call to make as the lawyer or delivery guy or accountant or sportswriter or football player: Cut off anybody who might do harm, even those who have been friends from the sandbox, or go along to get along.
Mainstream folks -- and, yes, this is a code word for white folks -- see high-profile athletes dealing with this dilemma and think it's specific to them, while black folks know it's everyday stuff for everybody, for kids with aspirations of all kinds -- even for a middle-class kid with a police-chief father, such as Taylor -- from South Central to Southeast to the South Side. Some do, some don't. Some will, some won't. Some can, some cannot. Often it's gut-wrenching. Usually, it's necessary. For some, it takes a little bit too long.
Anyway, this is where the rest of the world comes in, because the stuff Wilbon is talking about here, that's not unique to anywhere. It's not about Miami or DC or even the USA. Yes, there are more guns in the States, but poverty and violence and class and race and all the baggage that accompany them are global phenomena.
And I'm thinking about the rioting in the Paris suburbs. And I'm thinking about the movie City of God, which I watched again the other night -- set in a gang-ridden favela of Rio de Janeiro, it could easily be the Cape Flats townships outside Cape Town. Honestly, everything was the same -- the gangs, the drugs, the violence. It even looks the same. People were speaking Portuguese instead of Afrikaans, but the story is the same. You can try hard to be good and strong, you can try to stay out of the life, but sometimes the life just swallows you.
And this is the thing about poverty and violence, or even (for Sean Taylor) non-poverty and a culture of violence, is that it's a vortex, or a rip tide. It'll pull you under, and it may not matter how well you swim.