Sean Taylor died yesterday morning of a gunshot wound to the leg. His home was broken into Sunday overnight, and the invaders shot him in his bedroom, damaging the femoral artery and causing catastrophic bleeding. After six hours of surgery, there were some positive signs, but he passed away approximately 24 hours after being shot. His fiancee and baby daughter were unharmed.
Sean Taylor was a Pro Bowl safety for the Washington Redskins. That is the least important thing I can think about right now.
Yes, he was the best player on the team, and may have been the most popular despite playing on the defense (offensive players are always the most popular). Yes, he was often referred to by pundits and players as the best safety in the NFL, and one of the best defensive players. And yes, he has the skills and drive to make a Hall of Fame career seem likely.
But I don't care about that much right now. Next year, maybe as the draft approaches, that part will matter.
Here's what matters.
Sean Taylor got in a lot of trouble early in his career. He suffered from what I like to call "Miamitis," an affliction affecting University of Miami football players that manifests in unbearable arrogance and a sense that they're untouchable. He skipped the NFL rookie symposium, was arrested for drunk driving, and apparently pulled a gun on some men he suspected of stealing his ATVs. And he had been drafted by Joe Gibbs, a man who, like me, prizes character above almost any other factor. So even as Taylor excelled on the field, I didn't much care for him.
Then a funny thing happened. He grew up.
He had a baby, a little girl, a year and a half ago, and everything changed for him. According to his teammates, he smiled more, he was calmer. He stayed out of trouble. The drunk driving charges had been dropped, and the gun thing was reduced to probation. He proposed to his girlfriend. And he got even better on the field.
Know this: there is nothing in the world more powerful or precious than redemption. There is nothing I value more than someone turning their life around and fixing what was broken or ill-spent. In the last year, Sean Taylor has turned from my least favorite Redskin to one of my favorites, not because he still leads the NFC in interceptions, but because he grew up, looked into a mirror, and turned his life around.
So my prayers are for Sean Taylor's fiancee and daughter, and for his large family, with whom he stayed on draft day. My prayers are for the Redskins off the field, because the on-the-field loss, though great, pales in significance. And my prayers are for the gunman, inexplicable and still at-large. We may never know what happened that night. And only those close to Sean Taylor really know what has been lost.
I don't own a Sean Taylor jersey. I'm poor, and I buy my Redskins jerseys when I can get a great deal (except my #28 Darrell Green jersey, which I bought new in New York City). But I have a new redskins hat, the one I wore every Sunday during Richard II. It's got a "21" drawn on it in Sharpie. When it fades, I'll draw it again.