Remembering 21: Wise Looks Back
Many of you have asked what it was like for reporters and editors covering the tragedy that befell Sean Taylor, who died one year ago this morning. Mike Wise took a deep breath and remembered those wrenching days.
A year ago, my plane landed at Dulles Airport after I'd covered a game in Tampa. Local ABC sportscaster Greg Tolen, sitting in the same row of the plane, had received a text message about Sean Taylor being shot in his home. We went straight to his car and he drove us to Ashburn.
What began as an all-day vigil -- and then an all-night vigil -- became one of the saddest and most depressing days of my career.
There was none of the ghoulish newsroom humor that often characterizes the hard-boiled world of journalism as everyone tries to cope with covering a tragedy. There was no talk of football or injuries or that week's opponent.
There was just a deep, penetrating sorrow everywhere you went. His loss was obviously felt more deeply by his teammates and friends and coaches, but the tears from grown men lined up outside the team's headquarters is what I remember the most. Driving in or out, they were always there, commiserating over a 24-year-old kid they never met but came to love because of how passionately he played the game.
There were a lot of ideas and theories about what happened and why - and whether Taylor's past had something to do with it. And everybody lined up on differing sides to either be outraged by stereotypes of knucklehead athletes or to make a case that this is what happens to too many young, black, rich kids who still hang around the dangerous environments they grew up in.
I didn't know about all that and I never felt compelled to take either side. Sometimes when we're trying to make a statement about society and sports, we want to look at all the macro and forget about the micro. To me, that was what was lost here.
Sean Taylor was a father to a little girl who had no idea the day of his funeral that she would grow up without a daddy. A bunch of young, directionless kids took a life barely lived, and that life just happened to belong to one of the most feared players in pro football.
Having covered the suicide of Sacramento Kings rookie Ricky Berry in 1989, Bobby Phills' drag-car racing death and having listened to the mother of former NBA player Brian Williams talk about burying both her sons, I have to say none of those stories affected me like Taylor's death.
I had talked to him in the locker room days before and written a particularly difficult column about him the month before, in which he refused to allow me to use a notebook or a tape recorder. He didn't want me poking around his world and could almost be intimidating about it. But after the column appeared, he was also the kid who, while I was talking to one of his teammates and not paying him any mind, chirped with a smile, "Hey, I saw you on TV killing our defensive line yesterday."
I remember writing of the funeral how sad it was that we knew him better in death than in life. I still feel that way today. He lives bigger in memoriam than he did when he was alive. In another decade, Sean Taylor becomes the James Dean or Jim Morrison of the NFL - a great, young talent who was taken much too soon, a doting father who didn't get to see his baby girl grow up.
A year later, that's still pretty damn sad.
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