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The Seattle Media, Sean Taylor and the Afterlife

Via Seattlest.

When I first heard the Redskins suggest that Sean Taylor was affecting the flight path of field goals and punts, or that their 21-point margin against the Cowboys was something more than a coincidence, my immediate reaction was: 'Wow, I'm definitely going to ignore this. Whoa, look at that mohawk!'

There's no particular reason to argue with people who believe dead players can change future NFL outcomes: maybe that belief is in concert with their worldview, or demonstrates to them the power of faith, or just makes them feel better. That's fine, and those of us who don't believe will never convince them otherwise. It all turns into name-calling, as when George Will addressed Mike Huckabee's suggestion that God swayed the vote in Iowa:

God so loves Huckabee's politics that He worked a Midwest miracle on his behalf? Should someone so delusional control nuclear weapons?

So I was hoping the media would ignore this particular football story line, that Redskins players and fans could believe or not believe in peace, and that all would remain calm. Well, that didn't happen.

For one thing, my own paper ran a story on ghosts and sports and the paranormal. More to the point, two Seattle-area columnists addressed this issue in ways that many of my e-mailers objected to. First came John McGrath in the Tacoma News Tribune:

The solemn dignity of the Missing Man tribute has devolved into a maudlin circus that's turned Taylor from a tragic figure into the patron saint of an improbable Super Bowl contender.....

"Our guys, we didn't think it was by accident that we won by 21," Gibbs said. "I'll put it that way."

And I'll put it this way: It was a coincidence - a chain of events exclusive to a football game in Landover, Md., which had nothing to do with a fatal gunshot in Miami a month earlier - that enabled the Redskins to win by 21 points.

Then came Ted Miller in the Post-Intelligencer on gameday:

There is a point when paying tribute starts to feel like a marketing campaign, just as repeatedly superimposing spiritual matters on the final score of a football game should more inspire rolled eyes than hosannas. Insisting last weekend there was spiritual freight in the Redskins beating Dallas by 21 -- "Wowza! Taylor's jersey number was 21!" said coach Joe Gibbs and a handful of players -- floats only in a very shallow intellectual pool....

America may force a black hat onto the Seahawks on Saturday, but know that if Taylor is paying attention, and the afterlife includes some sort of evolving perspective, his sole rooting interest will be for the health and welfare of everyone watching as well as playing.

And he'd probably prefer the Redskins find a new mascot.

Strong words, nicely balanced by the TV media, with ESPN cueing the soft music and slow pans for its pre-game piece on "21 and Belief," and the NBC crew talking during the game about Sean Taylor looking down from heaven. Meanwhile, some bloggers suggested that the above columnizing was incredibly insensitive stuff, containing thoughts that should never ever be written. So fine, since everyone else is doing it, I'll say what I think:

The suggestions that Sean Taylor himself was altering football games from some hereafter were, if nothing else, incredibly insulting to the memory of Sean Taylor. This theory implies that Sean Taylor was granted some sort of power to influence real events on earth, and that he then decided to use at least a fraction of that power to alter several special-teams plays in an American tackle football game. It further suggests that--since there's no way the Skins win four straight without Todd Collins--Sean Taylor was in some way complicit in Jason Campbell's injury. Worst of all, it would seem to suggest that dead people have the power to prevent disease, or murder, or death, and that for some reason they fail to do so.

But, of course, if the Redskins actually believed that Taylor was out there with them--which many did--then that belief by itself might have changed their play, meaning that the idea of Sean Taylor actually did influence the outcome of several games, if not the flight path of field goals.

But obviously you either saw all that as self-evident 10 minutes ago, or you now think I'm a tasteless callous non-believer, so like I said, there's really no point. Coming up later today: how many place kickers can dance on the head of a pin?

(The above image is from Seattlest's game-day blog.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  January 7, 2008; 10:36 AM ET
Categories:  Redskins  
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