Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Updated: November 28, 12:24 PM ET
The grim, horrible statistic wins again
By Jemele Hill
Sean Taylor's death wasn't random.
Maybe it was, but it wasn't.
As the details emerge about the circumstances surrounding Taylor's death and Miami police hunt for the person responsible for claiming a vibrant life, this much already is true: The grim, horrible statistic won again.
The leading cause of death for black men 15 to 24 is homicide. Taylor, who died from a gunshot wound early Tuesday in connection with an apparent robbery at his home, was 24.
For the second time this year, an NFL player -- a young, black male -- has been murdered. Tragedy struck on the first day of 2007 when Darrent Williams, a Denver Broncos defensive back, was shot to death during a drive-by near a Denver nightclub after attending the birthday party for Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin.
Denver police believe the shooting was linked to an altercation involving people who were with Williams that day. He wasn't involved in the altercation. Not that the bullet cared. He was 24 when he died, too.
Their fame and wealth and playing for respected professional sports franchises didn't protect Williams and Taylor from an epidemic more lethal and closer than any war overseas, or any boogeyman terrorist we can unearth or create.
Violence in America has laid a special claim on young, black men. When it made its way to Taylor's exclusive suburban Miami neighborhood, it didn't care that Taylor was engaged, the father of an 18-month-old daughter, the son of a police chief, a trusted teammate, the fifth overall pick in the 2004 draft, a hard-hitting safety who teammates nicknamed "Meast" (half-man, half-beast), a Pro Bowler, the Redskins' leading tackler last season. Or that a plaque honoring him for a generous, monetary donation rests in the cafeteria at his former high school, Gulliver Preparatory.
"It sounded like things were getting better," a still-dazed Steve Howey, Taylor's high school coach, said early Tuesday morning. "To find out he'd died this morning, it just knocked the wind out of me."
Howey, now the football coach and athletic director at St. John Neumann High School in Naples, Fla., won a state title with Taylor in 2000 -- the defensive back's senior year. This is the first football player he's ever lost to violence.
"You hear about stuff like this from time to time," Howey said. "It's never been this close."
Perhaps the most pertinent question is, how much closer does it have to get before we realize these unfortunate incidents are reflective of an enormous crisis that requires our immediate attention and action?
A New York Times article reported the homicide rate among young, black men in America was seven times higher than any foreign country studied.
That article was published in 1990.
Why has nothing changed?
Studies conducted in 2006 at Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and other institutions concluded a black man is more than six times as likely to be murdered than a white man.
This isn't to say Taylor was killed because he was black. This is to say that, because he was black, Taylor was more likely to be killed. The weight of that should be just as jarring as waking up and discovering an NFL player died from a gunshot wound.
Please don't roll your eyes, release a frustrated breath, and trivialize this as "playing the race card."
This is an American problem, not just a racial one. The fact that it has spilled into the sports world should indicate just how serious it is.
As unfortunate as Taylor's death is, as representative as it is of a much more substantive issue, the saddest part is his passing may never be put in its proper perspective.
Although study after study shows black men are more likely to be victims of crime, rarely do they receive victim treatment. When black athletes are crime victims, the undertone seems to be they somehow were at fault. Eddy Curry, Antoine Walker and Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon all have been victims of home invasions that seem as orchestrated as the one that claimed Taylor's life. In March of 2006, Buchanon was stripped naked and tied up by seven men in ski masks who robbed him and jammed a gun in his mouth. This past July, Curry and his family were bound by duct tape as men robbed him at gunpoint in his suburban Chicago home. The Pistons' Flip Murray narrowly escaped the same fate, slamming the door on two gunmen on his porch before he called police. Yet we seem to think it's much more likely a black athlete is holding the gun instead of staring down the barrel of one.
By now, everyone is well aware of Taylor's past brushes with the law. They should be equally aware that those who knew him best thought he had distanced himself from those troubles; he was someone who had overcome the growing pains associated with being a professional athlete given unimaginable wealth at a young age. No matter what, Taylor's past doesn't in any way justify him meeting this tragic present.
We should, of course, remember Taylor with a heavy heart. But it's even more important that we remember there are thousands just like him in communities within walking and easy driving distance. And they shouldn't have to wear a NFL uniform for us to care about them.
Page 2 columnist Jemele Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.