Rocky's Football Corner, 12.5.2007

by Rick Rockwell

For the past week, the nation’s capital has been focused on one death: the murder of Sean Taylor.

Forget the Iraq War. Forget important elections in Russia and Venezuela. Forget the environment, healthcare, or national security. Five local television channels covered Taylor’s funeral for the D.C. region like the head of state had died.

Certainly, this was a tragic loss. But live, wall-to-wall coverage for an all-pro safety?

This just shows where the over-glorification of pro sports and the never-ending pandering of television stations for ratings have taken us. If only local news covered stories that really matter to most of the population with such depth.

But now a football player who had a history of spitting on players and for often over-aggressive play, to speak nothing of his history of gun charges and other arrests, is held up for all as a hero. And those who wanted to parse the truth as something a bit more complex were derided for stating the facts.

Last week, two Washington Post sportswriters, Leonard Shapiro and Michael Wilbon became part of the story when they reacted online. Both said they were not surprised Taylor had been murdered. The newspaper’s ombudsman mildly chided them for not being more elegant with the timing of their criticisms. Local newspaper readers, who are uniformly fans of Washington’s football team, were not so kind and tore into both.

Even bloggers here took some flak for laying out the facts, as they were available at the time.

But what Wilbon and Shapiro did is what every journalist should do: tell the truth, even if that truth is difficult to swallow. Reacting to the fans, Wilbon actually dialed his criticisms of Taylor back in what amounted to his official response to the killing in the newspaper. That column ended up being a pretty good discussion of the multi-dimensional reality of being a successful African-American and straddling racial and class lines.

What is commendable about Wilbon and Shapiro is that their opinions about Taylor did not waver in the face of his death, unlike other journalists. There are probably other examples of sportswriting hypocrisy to cite in this case but here are just a few.

Dick Heller, Washington Times, Jan. 13, 2006:

"Taylor has demonstrated repeatedly that the rules and mores governing most of us do not apply to him, because he can run, tackle and knock down footballs with reckless abandon…. Who needs him?"
Heller, Nov. 28, 2007:
"It's always a shock when a proud, strong, apparently indestructible athlete goes before his time - one that reminds us anew of our own mortality."
Jon Saraceno, USA Today, Aug. 11, 2006:
“The most recent example of this tendency to give admonishing love taps for serious infractions is the trouble-seeking defense missile Sean Taylor….

In June, Taylor reached a plea agreement with Florida prosecutors and pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor assault charges…. He is on 18 months' probation. In a related civil suit, he is accused of striking his accuser several times before returning with friends and pointing an assault rifle at the man.

This week, Taylor was disciplined by the NFL - if you describe fining a multimillionaire $71,764 a deterrent….That punishment was too puny.

Taylor's signing bonus was $7.2 million. So he was docked less than 1%.... Money is no threat - he should have been suspended."
Saraceno, Nov. 28, 2007:
"So, no, we didn't know Sean Taylor. He didn't trust the media or many others. Tuesday, I could better understand why as I perused the Internet reading garbage about him."
Dan Daly, Washington Times, June 7, 2005:
"The impulse is to reach out to troubled souls like Sean Taylor - and that's Joe Gibbs' inclination…. Heck, next to Sean, Randy Moss looks low maintenance….

What the Redskins have to ask themselves, in the wake of this latest Sean Taylor public relations disaster, is: At what point are we perfectly within our rights to say, "Enough"? Looks to me like they're already there."
Daly, Nov. 29, 2007:
"Those '21' patches the Redskins plan to wear on their uniforms Sunday in remembrance of Sean Taylor? Not nearly enough.

Neither are the '21' stickers that will adorn helmets across the league.

Nice gestures, but too... pat, too boilerplate. No, we need something more substantial, something to help the Redskins deal with their loss, something to fill the emptiness created by Taylor's death."
Which group of sportswriters would you rather be reading?

(For more on this theme, please see the series, "The End of Sportswriting.")

Week 14 Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week: Chargers at Titans (Titans)
Upset Special: Bears at Washington (Bears)
Giants at Eagles (Eagles)
Saints at Falcons (Saints)
Buccaneers at Texans (Buccaneers)
Panthers at Jaguars (Jaguars)
Chiefs at Broncos (Broncos)
Cardinals at Seahawks (Seahawks)
Vikings at 49ers (49ers)
Browns at Jets (Browns)
Steelers at Patriots (Patriots)
Raiders at Packers (Packers)
Rams at Bengals (Bengals)
Dolphins at Bills (Bills)
Colts at Ravens (Colts)
Cowboys at Lions (Cowboys)

Last Week: .438
This Season: .651

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:
(The promotional photo of columnist Michael Wilbon is from The Washington Post.)

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