Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sean Taylor

I don't follow pro football, haven't fooled with the 'Skins for twenty years or more, and wouldn't have known Sean Taylor if I had walked into him. Still, I'm moved by his senseless murder and feel his loss. I send my sympathies to Sean's wife, daughter, and larger family, to those who knew and cared for him, to the 'Skins, and to all of us.

The little I know of Sean Taylor comes from one clip of him and three televised interviews with men who knew him well.

What struck me was a jarring deconstruction in all three interviews. First, the interviewer posited Taylor's evolution from some sort of difficult youth to a man matured by the birth of his daughter. Then the interviewee expressed mystification and insisted that that the story didn't fit the man they knew at all. Rather, they said, they didn't know of a troubled past, and said that he was shy, gentle, focused on his work, brilliantly talented, unassuming, and devoted to his family.

Somebody clearly got the story wrong. But what's odd is that though it was not accurate, still it was lodged firmly in the files of the sportscasters. I don't get that. Is this a measure of the quality of sports reporting?

Hmmmmmm. Now that I think about it, I seem to recall hearing just this mythic oddyssey applied to other famous African American athletes. If I followed pro sports maybe I could give examples. Since I don't, I can't, but I'm sure I'm not making this up.

In a way, it's standard fare. All men have rebellious youths. Boys will be boys and then they grow up.

But what in my experience plays as charmingly picaresque for young white men plays differently (among Anglos) for young African American, Hispanic, and Native American men. I so hope it's different for them in their own worlds. I hope they're cut the same amount of slack we cut for our (middle class) boys' testosterone factor, because in my world, we don't cut slack at all for young men of color. Nuh-uh. What we first trivialize and then assume a young white man has left permanently behind, we convert to living sinister potential in a young man of color: There's just no telling when he'll revert "to type," we think, but thank God somebody's civilized him. For now.

Sean Taylor is iconic. His murder is the tragedy of wasted talent, potential lost to us all, forever, and I don't mean only his football skills. There was a whole man there. Taylor's early success speaks of his focus, his priorities, his discipline, his remarkable ability even as a kid to pursue a dream that you know didn't always seem to be within easy reach. And yet he didn't limit his life to football. In the one clip I saw, he himself alluded to his life off the field in ways that made it clear he knew pretty well which was his life and which was his job.

Sean Talor is iconic. How many other brilliantly talented, gentle, focused, shy, unassuming, and devoted young African American, Native American, and Hispanic family men are boxed inside that myth, and what happens when they aren't pro football stars of massive talent? Where do they end up?

Oh wait, don't tell me.

At yearend 2005 there were 3,145 black male sentenced prison inmates per 100,000 black males in the United States, compared to 1,244 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males and 471 white male inmates per 100,000 white males.