Tuesday, November 27, 2007

When the truth doesn't suit our bromides

Sean Taylor is dead, in case you haven't heard. The reaction from the media, I think, has been pretty muted, considering the nature of the murder and the talent level of the victim. But I guess that's what happens when the player in question hardly ever spoke with the media; in the absence of personal anecdotes, there's really not much to say in situations like these. Or at least that's the stance most media members have taken with Taylor's shooting and subsequent passing, sticking to the facts and editorializing little.

But what of those facts? Not of the shooting; those surrounding Taylor's life. Isn't there something to be said of the fact that Taylor's last few years have been a bit troubling on the "getting his name in the blotter" tip, even by the standards of the NFL? This guy's name has been linked with gun violence on multiple occasions, both as victim and perpetrator. This isn't to say he's a murderer or a gangster; it's just to say that the search "Sean Taylor+guns" would come up with a few more hits than "Bob Sanders+guns."

Mike Wilbon thought Taylor's backstory was relevant. Here's what he said during a chat, yesterday:

McLean, Va.: Will your opinion of Taylor change if this does not turn out to be a random incident (e.g. home invasion)?

Michael Wilbon: No ... people's opinions are shaped by the way they've grown up, the way they see the world, what they know about the world the person in question grew up in, etc. Sean Taylor isn't the only guy I know who fits his general profile. I've known guys like Taylor all my life, grew up with some. They still have shades of gray and shouldn't be painted in black and white...I know how I feel about Taylor, and this latest news isn't surprising in the least, not to me. Whether this incident is or isn't random, Taylor grew up in a violent world, embraced it, claimed it, loved to run in it and refused to divorce himself from it. He ain't the first and won't be the last. We have no idea what happened, or if what we know now will be revised later. It's sad, yes, but hardly surprising.

Unsurprisingly, Wilbon's catching some blowback. From Chris Mottram's Mr. Irrelevant:
This is ridiculous on so many levels, but the worst part is that it sounds an awful lot like Wilbon is suggesting Taylor had this coming. Sure, Taylor’s had some troubles in the past, but that’s like suggesting the slutty girl from high school deserved to be raped. See, the way it works is that crimes are not the fault of the victims.
Listen, I don't have an axe to grind with either of these guys, and I can see where Mottram's coming from. Wilbon's comments do seem a little chilly, especially now that we know the guy ended up dying.

We're supposed to be nice to the dead and dying, and "concern" ourselves more with that person getting better or ascending swiftly to the pre-assigned level of heaven in times like these. We tend to wait at least two weeks before suggesting anything negative about the deceased, and even then you must chase any statement with, "... may god rest his/her soul." It's proper form. It's also bullshit.

It's not Wilbon's or Mottram's job to comfort the family of the dead, folks. Reporters and columnists are there to let us know what the news is, and sometimes what their opinion of the news is. And Taylor's death is a sufficiently big story that people are allowed to call it like they see it. That's what Wilbon did. Taylor's been in trouble, and a good percentage of those situations involved guns. No, he wasn't Tupac, but it's so totally not surprising that he got shot. To say otherwise is disingenuous.

I also don't think that Wilbon — or anyone who cares to mention Taylor's history and the possibility that there's a connection — is saying Taylor "had it coming," an expression that implies the person deserved it. No one has a fucking bullet to the groin "coming to them." But to borrow Mottram's rape analogy, you needn't suggest the slut deserved to get raped to point out that sluts are more likely to get raped than girls who are in bed by 10 p.m.

I'm really wondering if Wilbon's going to be the only one to point out the obvious: That, despite alleged attempts to improve his life — and I love how everyone has taken statements to this effect as gospel — Taylor's past almost certainly came back to haunt him. We may not really understand (yet) what Taylor's past involves in whole, but a few well-publicized incidents give us an idea. A couple of years ago, he stuck a gun in the face of someone he had just beaten up over a stolen SUV, and subsequently was the reason someone went NYPD on a friend's truck during a drive-by. And from the scraps of information coming through about recent events, Taylor had reason to believe he was still a target, especially considering that a little more than a week ago someone broke into his house and left a fucking knife on his pillow. This shooting was not the product of some casual disdain, or a desire to separate Taylor from his wealth. Someone wanted him dead, or seriously fucked up, and dedicated no small amount of thought and effort to achieving that end. Murder like this doesn't happen by accident; at some point, Taylor or a close associate initiated a chain of events that led to yesterday's murder. You don't need to be McNulty to figure this stuff out.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that outside of a few glancing blows like this one, we're not going to see anything substantive on this until REAL Sports or another investigative (and non-print) outlet decides to tackle the "Athletes and Gun Violence" story again, maybe even with a new perspective. But, like the Brian Pata/Darrent Williams situations proved, even the hardest-hitting outlets are loathe to dig into what it is that these young men did that made their murder such a priority for someone. Maybe one of them was a "senseless" killing — the more we hear about the Williams slaying, the more it sounds like he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time — but it's not possible that they all were. Pata was executed, and Taylor was stalked before being executed. Pata and Taylor did something to inspire these killings. If you're going to report the story, you need to be willing to address that issue. That is the story.

The fact that he responded to his SUV being stolen by hunting down some guy, beating the living shit out of him, and then putting a gun in his face tells us something about Sean Taylor's character. You don't brandish weapons in the process of disputes unless deadly weapons — and the violence associated with them — are a central motif in your life. The only way we can insult Taylor's memory is to accuse him of being stupid enough — after growing up in a Florida inner city — to think that he could simply walk away from that kind of past without it catching up to him at some point.

It is unfortunate that Sean Taylor is dead. It's tragic that his infant daughter will grow up without a father. I feel for everyone involved in his life, many of whom are not only dealing with grief but the kind of anxiety that springs from someone your age dying. And I certainly don't believe that Sean Taylor deserved to be murdered. No one deserves to be killed; murder always represents the grandest of injustices. I hope his killer(s) are found, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and never allowed to take the life of someone's son, brother and father. Who wouldn't share those sentiments?

But I, like Wilbon, am not surprised by Taylor's death in the least. I don't believe it's an inexplicable tragedy; it's merely a tragedy, and further proof to anyone dense enough to still need it that if you're willing to point a gun at someone else, there's a strong likelihood that you will find yourself at the other end of one at some point. Whoever killed Taylor that night did so not only armed with a gun, but what he felt was reason enough to use it. And to pretend that's not the case is to willfully ignore that which is right in front of your face.

18 comments:

Pepe said...

Junior high school? Says who? Fuck them!

Good stuff in this post.

b said...

OMG...that Shapiro column....

Well, I think this further proves that the national sports media, specifically national columnists, talk radio hosts and ESPN.com-ers (not the people doing the actual reporting) is incapable of handling stories when "tragedy" and "sports" intertwine. I actually found out about the news this morning on uniwatchblog.com, when Paul Lukas actually started his "tribute" by saying Taylor was "no angel" in the opening sentence, just hours after he died.

The national blowhards have always had trouble walking the fine line between objectivity and subjectivity in these types of cases, namely black-on-black crimes, blaming them as having "the hip hop lifestyle" or being "unable to break away from the 'hood." In addition to making rash generalizations, they wander far off the path that's not even relevent to the story. Columnists who are comparing this to Tupac and Biggie's death need to stop immediately - not every death involving a young black man was done with "Hit 'em up" playing in the background, even if it may seem that way; nor is it possible to comprehend that, given millions of dollars and fame to go with it, Sean Taylor would stop being who he is just because he's an NFL player and supposed to be a role model to others. Nor is it immediately necessary to analyze how the Redskins will deal with this new (pardon the pun) hole in the secondary. He died just hours earlier!

Leonard Shapiro's column is an embarrassment to journalism and our supposed standards in society. He says it would be terrible to rush to judgement, then immediately rushes to judgement. Just because you are black, played at Miami, was fined for a few late hits, missed offseason workouts a few years ago (!) and had a few brush-ins with the law doesn't make a tragic end to your life "unsurprising." But it clearly emphasizes this columnist is A) insensitive, B) if not racist, then at least ignorant, C) trigger-happy and D) not fit to handle a story of this magnitude. Guys like him help further the distrust of the media and open a lot of bad wounds in society.

However, I find it difficult to believe that Sean Taylor had matured and was becoming a model citizen, as many have said. Maybe this could have been the case, we'll never know, but at the same time that we're hyper-critical of letting mistakes judge a person's character, we should be a little leery of Clinton Portis of all people tell us what a wonderful person he had become, too.

b said...

Completely off-topic, but I heard a funny story on NPR today. T-Pain has had one million downloads of his "Buy you a drink" song, and THREE million downloads of the ringtone for the same song. That means people were three times as likely to pay at least $2.99 for a 15-second clip of the song than they were $0.99 for the entire song. Perplexed, someone in the music industry figured out that his digitized voice sounded much better on a tiny cellphone speaker than it did anywhere else, meaning T-Pain has become a millionaire by simply being a few notches above MIDI. Currently, T-Pain has the three top-selling ringtones on iTunes and the aforementioned song isn't even one of them!

K-Ci & Jojo must be furious!

Diesel said...

@ b
While I tend to be fairly forgiving of athletes who have "run-ins" with the law, pointing a gun at someone's face after beating their ass does qualify as a character issue. And that's not just the case for professional athletes; anyone who does that kind of shit is embracing a modus operandi that doesn't jive with societal mores.

And Taylor's race works both ways; while it's dumb to simply assume that his death was a result of his "hip-hop lifestyle" (whatever that means) it's equally as negligent to excuse Taylor's behavior as an adult because of the environment he grew up in. Taylor's decisions were not only his own to make, but he had a higher education that should have informed those decisions. It's condescending, IMHO, to expect an educated black man to act in a different manner than anyone else of similar means. And if Taylor emerged from his time at UM having not capitalized on his opportunity to expose himself to a better way of life than gun violence, it's his fault, not society's.

And — it shouldn't have to be said, but I'll say it again — an acceptance that Taylor was a man of questionable character does not justify his death, or make it any less tragic. It does, however, provide context to his killing and dispels any notions that this was a random occurrence. Someone wanted Taylor dead or close to it; the odds are very good that Taylor, at some point, made a bad decision that came back to haunt him.

Pat said...

Great last post, Diesel. I agree with it whole-heartedly, both because my gut told me so and because I've created a forumla called WORP-TGWNA4, that has broken down my opinions into difficult-to-understand digits.
Chris Rock has a well-known bit he used in the wake of the Columbine shootings, when the killers were linked to Marilyn Manson's music. Chris Rock's thinking was, "Whatever happened to just being crazy?"
Well, in Taylor's case, whatever happened to making terrible life decisions?
Jamelle Hill wrote the predictable "Another black athlete dead story" today. Well guess what? I wasn't surprised, either, when the Taylor story broke. I would have been suprised had it happened to 95 percent of the black athlete population.
Taylor made shitty life choices. Him being black has nothing to do with it.
Per B's argument, I agree with his disgust with the "holding on to the ghetto lifestyle" take. You know why people used that with Mike Vick? To explain what the hell dogfighting was — and the thinking behind it — to white America. In the context of Vick, I think it made sense. It did not here.
I am equally scandalized by the saccharin "he had turned his life around" stories that ran on most major web sites today, and I presume in most major newspapers tomorrow.
Guess what?
SOMEONE BROKE INTO HIS HOUSE 8 DAYS AGO! THEY LEFT A KNIFE ON HIS BED! THEY CUT THE PHONE LINES!
WHEN HE WAS SHOT, HE WAS SHOT IN AN ARTERY THAT CAN DRAIN THE ENTIRE BODY OF ITS BLOOD IN FIVE MINUTES!
Do those things happen to people who haven't made the wrong people mad?
For writers to write about his terrible death, and then list his NFL rap sheet at the end as an afterthought drove me crazy.
Yes, he had an history of violence. But some writers actually implied that, because he spit in another player's face and hit people illegally, he made poor decisions!
You know what? Pedro Martinez hits batters, but I don't expect him to go all Ugueth Urbina on people.
What bothers me — and I think us all — is that I have yet to read a story written in a tone I would agree with, much less not be horribly offended by.
Maybe this is an offshoot of our news-hungry society. An active athlete is killed, likely murdered, and people want stories NOW.
People who have no business writing about Taylor, who didn't know him, paint him with a broad brush — either painting him as a typical ghetto victim or as a Boy Scout who was unlucky enough to walk downstairs during a robbery.
(Where nothing was stolen, I'll add).
The truth, as we know, is someone in between — the way it usually is, especially within only hours of a tragedy, and when people have column inches to fill and the pressure to "have a take."

Pepe said...

Race never has anything to do with it, according to you. And according to most of white America. Race is perennially irrelevant. It's just a card minorities play to curry favor or prove a point.

Jemelle Hill wrote -- again -- the best column I've seen from any news outlet about a significant story involving a black athlete. But she's predictable for bringing up race? Why? Why is it so "predictable" that she brought up race, Pat? Why isn't it "predictable" that few of the white male sports columnists didn't bring it up?

Lots of people of every race make bad life decisions. Young black males die at a massively disproportionate rate after doing so. I guess that's predictable, too, which means we can dismiss it.

Pepe said...

That should say "Why is it predictable that few of the white male sports columnists did bring it up?"

M.M. said...

Machete seemed like an odd choice for a bedroom weapon. Where was his gun?

big c said...

@ Diesel:

Great post. I still can't grasp why people chose to ignore the seemingly obvious causes behind this 'random' act.
And I sincerely hope that those who espouse the whole "Sean Taylor was just the victim of his inescapable past and upbringing" idea realize how utterly condescending, racist, and fucking stupid they are being. I grew up in a violent neighborhood, too, yet for some reason (probably, you know, the choices I have made in life) I haven't yet awakened to a .357 aimed at my crotch. To stick one's fingers in their ears and pretend that Taylor did not likely have every opportunity to separate himself from a dangerous lifestyle is laughably ignorant. Show me someone who is genuinely "surprised" by this outcome, and I'll show you someone who is surprised that the sun comes up every morning. Tragic? Absolutely. Surprising? Please. You reap what you sow.

@ Pepe:

Man, just join the Black Panthers, already!

But on a serious note: Can we get a moratorium on the term 'white America'? I am hard-pressed to think of a more racist (oddly enough, racism goes both ways, apparently) and idiotic term. It actually surprises (yes, surprises) me that one as intelligent, educated, and melanin-deprived as yourself would resort to such dreck. As I'm sure you are aware, all white people do not think, act, or behave in the same manner. This blog wouldn't exist (sorry for outing you, Diesel) if we did. So, why the blanket term? You're better than that.

@Pat:

I think you and I are on the same wavelength on this one, and I am on board with about 95% of your post. But, I am perplexed by the Vick comment. You do understand that the 'pit bull' was bred into existence by white people, right? And there's that term again. I have no interest in dredging up an old issue, but, for the last time, Vick's actions were inexcusable no matter which way you slice it.
You also bring up a pretty intriguing topic when you mention the whole Sean Taylor salivary gland event starring Michael Pittman. When Bill Romanowski did it, he was vilified and forced to apologize in front of the nation after having his character rent asunder by the sports media. Sean received nowhere near the same response. I'll leave it to you to figure out why that is, but I will say this: if Romo were ever to have someone break into his house and shoot him in the nads, what are the odds that the spitting incident with J.J. Stokes would end up somewhere in the post-mortem discussion? I say pretty damned good.

Pepe said...

C: I can never tell when you're kidding and when you're not here. But I hope you're kidding about that "white America" bit, because if you're not, then your crack about me "being better than that" (which, incidentally really had better be a joke) looks pretty ironic.

b said...

m.m. - I believe he actually couldn't possess a gun because he was on probation.

Pepe - I knew I could have curried favor from you by saying earlier that Hill wrote a good column on the subject, but forgot. It was nice to have a non-”just another n-word” point of view that has been so prevalent on this (and others).

And Diesel - My point was more against the slip-shoddy 'journalism' of that Wash Post blogger than you. Of course Taylor was more likely to die of a violent crime than you or me, but bringing up the fact that he once spat in an opponent's face doesn't excuse him being murdered. He used those kind of examples, like him missing offseason workouts a few years back, as an excuse for why he was eventually murdered.

big c said...

Pepe:

To clarify: I really do hate that term. The 'you're better than that' is a bit jokey, though. I'm not attacking you or Pat, just expressing my disdain for a term that should be as extinct from the American lexicon as the n-word.

Just who comprises 'white America'?
You? Me? Or is it just some sort of nebulous term akin to 'those folks, but not me/us'? This is important because you use it as a derogatory term. "'White America' doesn't understand this; 'white America' is guilty of that." I'm white, and if you presume to dictate what I do and don't understand/feel, you are a presumptuous cock.

In my experience, I have always seen the term used as a means for bashing white people with the implicit assumption that the white speaker/user of the term is exempt from this status. Frequently, the term has been used in some diatribe concerning that white folks "don't know what it's like to be black in America". How in the fuck do you, I, or any white person have any idea what it is like to be black? What gives anyone of our skin tone the authority to make such statements?

It is important to note that, although I do not like the term, I'm not lecturing anyone here. I had a black roommate in college who, politely, told me to shut the fuck up after I used the term myself, due to the already stated premises. If you ever met J, you'd probably be able to guess why he felt this way, but it's too much to explain here.

I know what it is like to be white, poor (not anymore, who-hoo!), male, fat, and Irish/Polish/French, but not black, so to speak on their experiences is, well, racist.

Final thought: how about the term 'black America'? If 'white America' is OK, then why not 'black America'. Are double-standards permissible, then? I haven't heard the term used, lately. I wonder why that is?

Pat said...

Pepe-
I didn't like Hill's column because I've read it before. Right after Darrent Williams was murdered, she wrote this:

"There are many words to describe the senseless killing of Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams. Unfortunate. Heartbreaking. Sad. But here's the one word we can't use in describing such a death: Unexpected.
Why are we no longer shocked to hear that a black athlete has been murdered?"

Her argument made sense then. Williams was killed when someone fired into his limo after he got into a fight at a club on New Year's Eve.

In that context, the notion of black athletes falling prey to tragedies usually reserved for inner-city kids seemed appropriate. And I think it makes sense, too, in the context of Mike Vick and Pac-Man Jones, in that both were busted for doing things that, sadly, have become the stereotype of milionaires who come from the inner-city.

Look the most masochistic rap videos. How many times do you see pit bulls? Strip clubs? People making it rain?

Her take does not hold water with me today, at least when talking about Sean Taylor. The same goes for Bryan Pata.

What's the lesson here? Why are black athletes always getting killed, execution-style, in the parking lots of their apartment complex? Why are black athletes always mudered in their homes after being sent a warning a week before? Puh-lease.

There's no grand lesson to learn from the Taylor shooting, and it bothers me to see Hill trying to shoehorn some kind of pattern of black violence into a murder case reserved for someone who clearly had done something OUT OF THE ORDINARY to put himself in that situation.

Pepe, you say young black men die at a disporportionate rate, and that's true. But this is such an outlier that it's ridiculous to lump Taylor's shooting in with drive-bys, drug deal gone wrong, etc.

Jeff said...

Diesel that was well written.

I had a longer post to (very briefly) discuss Jemele Hill's write-up by blogger lost it somehow.

I guess we'll leave it at that.

Pepe said...

C: I hope it's more than a bit jokey. Because if I thought you were telling me to join the Black Panthers and using the phrase "you're better than that" at all in earnest, even partly, even a little bit, then I would be absolutely infuriated.

I don't agree with most of what you say about race here, but I don't tell you to join the Klan, and I hope I don't ever say anything as condescending and presumptuous as "you're better than that." Doyle's one of my best friends in the world, and every time he's ever said that to me (not many), I've gotten pissed off and called him on it.

It's hard to judge tone in this forum/format/whatever, and things get misread a lot. It's different with Diesel and B and the Anonymous brothers, b/c I know them well enough to get a read for when they're joking and how much. So I'm not going to get upset over this. But go easy with that kind of talk.

big c said...

Pepe:

I'm not trying to piss anyone off, here. You're right, things would be a little easier if we knew each other better; there are times that I don't know how to take some of your comments, as well. If I wanted to personally attack/insult anyone on this blog, I would endeavor to do it in person. Also, I would never type anything to anyone that I was not willing to say to their face. At 5'11", it would be hard for me to actually talk down to you face-to-face unless I was standing on something. (Joking: I am actually 5'11 1/2").

I stand by my assertion that 'white America' is an idiotic term, but you don't have to take that as a personal insult. You've written some pretty shitty things about my favorite city outside of Phoenix recently, but I didn't take those comments to heart; I actually thought it was pretty funny.

If any topic/issue is out-of-bounds, let me know (through Diesel or google talk), and I'll keep it off the blog. I'm not trying to start a real-life fight over a discussion of the death of someone that I don't even know. It would be safe to assume that everything that I write that is potentially inflammatory should be taken with a grain of salt; I get "did you really mean that?" IMs from Diesel all the time.

Anonymous said...

Pepe,

You're still an Eagles fan? You're better than that.

-D. Suavecito

M.M. said...

I would be surprised if the reason he didn't have a gun was due to legal concerns. After a knife was left on his bed, why care?

The other question I had was in regards to where he was shot. Two shots were fired, one missed both Taylor and his girlfriend. I would hesitate to assume that the groin was the intended target. Is this why ESPN is now refering to where he was shot as the upper leg?

?