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The Sean Taylor Narrative

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a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious.
This will be a long post.

I never knew Sean Taylor. I don't have access to his criminal record. I don't know what kind of kid he was growing up, how his father raised him, or what was in his heart. All I know about him is that he could hit on the field, which I saw, live and on television, and that he was one of my favorite players. I also know that he was arrested in the past.

Due to this last bit, reminded immediately to readers the day of his attack, as well as some on-field issues that Sean Taylor has had, a narrative has developed about a young, troubled man who struggled with demons that perhaps finally caught up with him. That, at least, seems to be what Michael Wilbon (My Brain Says Rage responds) was saying:

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.

I don't know on what Michael Wilbon bases this assessment of Taylor. I have to assume, for the sake of argument, that Michael Wilbon, a journalist, knows more about Sean Taylor than I do. My trusty internet sleuthing only goes so far. I'd beg Wilbon to invite us into his privaledged world and tell us what we're missing about Sean Taylor.

Because what I gathered was quite different. Sean Taylor was raised by the current Chief of Police of the Florida City PD. He grew up in Richmond Heights and played High School Football at Gulliver Preparatory School in Pinecrest, Florida (suburb of Miami). As you can tell by the name, the mean halls of Gulliver were probably where Sean developed his checkered background, while attending the same school as obvious trouble makers in two of George W. Bush's nephews, Enrique Iglesias, and the guy who made Mozilla. Who knew?

That's the biographical. Here comes the narrative, complements per ESPN:

Still, Taylor, drafted No. 5 overall by the Redskins in April 2004, got off to a rocky start in the NFL.

He had a drunken driving charge that was later dismissed. He skipped part of the NFL's mandatory rookie symposium. He fired two agents. He didn't like his contract. He refused to return Gibbs' calls during the offseason. And he was fined at least seven times for late hits, uniform violations and other on-field infractions.

In 2005, he was accused of pointing a gun during a fight over all-terrain vehicles near his Miami home, a legal battle that ended a year later when he pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors and was sentenced to probation.

Again, Michael Wilbon might have information on Sean that I don't, given that he's a professional journalist. But perusing the internet, it is quite clear that a lot of people who probably don't have any more privaledged info on Sean Taylor than I do have already reached a number of conclusions about him. And that has flustered more than a few people (READ THIS) who have taken to task the coverage (MJD knows what time it is), which tells a story of just another athlete gone bad.

I don't blame ESPN for their coverage, as nothing they say is factually false. What flusters me is that it is creating an impression in thousands of sports fans that Sean Taylor had actually done something a lot worse than those incidents suggest. For instance, a representative sampling comment:

He has had a history of bad judgement, and this was no random burglary. Someone was gunning for him on purpose. Sean Taylor did not deserve to die, and the scumbags who shot him deserve a severe punishment, but let's not elevate Sean Taylor to sainthood, please.
There is a presumption without evidence provided that Sean Taylor has a history of bad judgment. I disagree, I think it's worth discussing.

The DUI Arrest

Sean Taylor was arrested for driving under the influence and refusal to take a breathalyzer in October of 2004. He had his day in court on March 10th of 2005 and both charges were dropped. The DUI was dropped after a Judge watched video of the field sobriety test. The refusal to take a breathalyzer was dropped because the arresting officer lacked probable cause. In our unique system of Jurisprudence, a person is innocent until that moment they are proven guilty, and Sean Taylor was never proven guilty of Driving Under the Influence.

The "Gun" Incident

In June of 2005 turned himself into authorities and was charged for allegedly committing aggravated assault and simple battery. Sean Taylor fought those charges. In April of 2006 the original Assistant State Attorney was removed from the case for mentioning the proceeding on his My Space page, that also contained large amounts of intense douche baggery (see for yourself):

"While nothing on Assistant State Attorney Mike Grieco's Web site compromised the integrity of the Sean Taylor case, Mr. Grieco, as the prosecutor, feels that the case is more important than any individual who would prosecute it. The desire to smear a prosecutor and affect a potential jury pool is a reprehensible trial tactic. Every case should be decided by the relevant evidence presented to a jury.

"To insure the proper handling of this case, Mr. Grieco has reluctantly asked to have another Assistant State Attorney replace him as he sees himself becoming the courtroom focus, rather than the individual charged with the criminal offense.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Grieco had not deleted the messages and images sent to him at his personal Web site. That has been rectified and he has disabled the Web site."

The "proper handling of this case" just over a month later was for the new Assistant State Attorney to drop the aggravated assault charge in a plea agreement where Taylor would plead NO CONTEST to simple misdemeanor battery and simple misdemeanor assault.

There are a few things worth mentioning regarding this outcome. First, Sean Taylor accepted the plea deal reluctantly:

Speaking to Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Leonard Glick, Taylor said the plea was "a hard pill for me to swallow" because "this is not something I think I'm guilty of."

But Taylor added: "I believe it's in my best interest to accept this plea."

Second, in addition to the alleged misconduct of the original ASA Mike Grieco, it's at least been alleged that Grieco "abused his power as an ASA." Do what you want with that.

Third, Sean Taylor accepted a plea of NO CONTEST, which those of you with traffic tickets know is not the same as GUILTY, for two misdemeanors. It's the plea reserved for people who are accepting a plea bargain but doing so reluctantly, so as not to admit guilt but to accept the new terms because it's a more expedited means of dealing with the case.

Fourth, the two "crimes" Sean Taylor pleaded NO CONTEST to were simple battery and simple assault. Per Florida statute:

(1) An "assault" is an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, coupled with an apparent ability to do so, and doing some act which creates a well-founded fear in such other person that such violence is imminent.

(2) Whoever commits an assault shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

775.082(4)(b):

(b) For a misdemeanor of the second degree, by a definite term of imprisonment not exceeding 60 days.
784.03 reads:
(1)(a) The offense of battery occurs when a person:
  1. Actually and intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other; or
  2. Intentionally causes bodily harm to another person.
(b) Except as provided in subsection (2), a person who commits battery commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
775.082(4)(a):
For a misdemeanor of the first degree, by a definite term of imprisonment not exceeding 1 year;
The much touted figure of maximum 46 years in jail oh my gosh! was reduced to 1 year, 60 days in jail, max. The distinguishing factor between "aggravated" assault and simple assault is the presence of at least one of two elements:
(a) With a deadly weapon without intent to kill; or

(b) With an intent to commit a felony.

The distinguishing factor between "aggravated" battery and simple battery is the presence of at least one of two elements:
1. Intentionally or knowingly causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement; or

2. Uses a deadly weapon.

So, make sure you don't confuse simple assault or battery with aggravated assault or battery. The two classifications are distinct. Also, according to the State of Florida, Sean Taylor didn't have a gun, as that would satisfy the element in both instances of the presence of a "deadly weapon".

Fifth, read this, empahsis mine:

When Taylor and some friends located the people who had the vehicles, the two sides eventually got into a fight and Taylor hit and shoved at least one person, a prosecutor said in court. Prosecutors had first accused Taylor of pointing a gun during the dispute, but he denied having a weapon. That accusation was dropped in the deal.
I don't emphasize to encourage hitting or shoving, but that's the kind of "crime" that happens with relative frequency. It is not a felony. It is not horrendous or indicative of a life-gone-wrong, especially when it was preceded by theft of one's personal property.

Sixth:

If he does not violate probation, those charges would be eliminated from his record.
Sean Taylor did not violate probation. Per his attorney on the television, my understanding was that the state dropped the probation after Taylor spoke at a few high schools and donated some money. I'll track down a source on that. Update [2007-11-29 21:17:15 by Skin Patrol]: I found a source that says the probation was terminated on April 18th of this year.

In aggregate, what the State of Florida has against Sean Taylor is that he, at most, "punched and shoved" someone who stole an ATV from him. This person sought out Taylor by stealing from him. A crime was committed against Taylor and, just as many of us would, he confronted that person. When a person is willing to defend their personal property they are a victim and criminal! awesome.

The "victim" in the simple assault and simple battery case, was not awesome. He was a criminal (source: here and here). Sean's attorney stated earlier this week (source) that the people who took his ATVs in the incident later fired guns at him. His attorney also suggested that they might be suspects in the current investigation, which brings us to our next point. If there is an appropriate context worth injecting the previous ATV incident, that resulted in two misdemeanor charges and no felonies, it is only if the responsible parties from both events are one in the same. Even if that's the case, it in no way suggests that what happened to Sean Taylor was unsurprising, that it was the result of something he did, or that he at all put himself in danger. Some shithead stole Sean's ATV and not the other way around. If that same shithead also murdered Sean, he had no business doing so in virtue of anything Taylor did.

The facts are and remain, pending some additional evidence of imaginary arrests of Sean Taylor, that authorities charged him wrongly with DUI, refusal to take a breathalyzer, and aggravated assault, per the admission of the state. Our system of Jurisprudence said Sean Taylor was innocent of those crimes until he was convicted of those by a trier of fact or else plead guilty. It happened to be neither. If you want to argue that Sean Taylor was a drunk driver, was a gun waving maniac, you get to do so against the word of the Judges that dismissed the DUI charges and the Assistant State Attorney that dropped the aggravated assault charge. The aggravated assault charge was so unbelievable that it never even made it to a trier of fact; rather the State of Florida abandoned its case because it found it to be without merit. There can be no hair splitting on the legal conclusion of his DUI and "assault" case.

Which leaves us only his on-field transgressions such as:

He skipped part of the NFL's mandatory rookie symposium. He fired two agents. He didn't like his contract. He refused to return Gibbs' calls during the offseason. And he was fined at least seven times for late hits, uniform violations and other on-field infractions.
Uniform violations?!?!? He missed the rookie symposium?!?!?!?!?! Oh my!

Also, back in May Sean Taylor was asked about his contract and was simply fuming about it:

Question: Lot of speculation that you might not be happy with your contract. Is there any truth to that?

Sean Taylor: There is no truth to that at all. I'm definitely happy, I mean the Redskins drafted me... they drafted me at number 6 and, I mean, I have a seven year contract and I've played three years of that contract, and I'm fine.

Question: Have there been any discussions about possibly working a deal bla bla bla...?

Sean Taylor: I don't even handle that and I don't talk about it and I prefer not to. I mean, that's something where it comes a point in time, they want to talk about it, it's necessary, then we'll talk about it. But until then... that's never been an issue with us.

Which leaves us a spitting incident I don't condone, since spitting is wrong. However, Sean Taylor played the greatest sport on earth how a man is supposed to play it. He was 22 years old when he allegedly spit on Pittman and, at some point, I think it's worthwhile to give a guy the benefit of the doubt. Football is an inherently violent sport where young men sometimes do things they wouldn't otherwise do. Sean Taylor might have spit in Pittman's face. I can't exactly hold him anathema because of that, though, since I've done comparable evil after drunken games of Goldeneye or NFL Blitz on the 64. I might have even shoved someone once without their permission, which apparently would make me guilty of simple battery in the State of Florida.

Absent anything else you'd have very little on which to conclude that Sean Taylor was ever a bad person, had a history of bad judgment, or was otherwise unusually violent (ok, maybe on the field, that's why we loved him). He lacks any serious legal trouble pointed to by ESPN since the felony was dropped along with the DUI, leaving just misdemeanors that Taylor grudgingly accepted against his will. We have some on-field incidents that range in seriousness from gasp uniform infractions to one spitting incident.

But our body of evidence on Taylor is not absent all else; we have the word of his friends, teammates, and family that Sean Taylor was an outstanding father, a great friend, and completely misunderstood by a "narrative" that repeated itself ad nauseum. We also know that Sean Taylor gave his life protecting his home and family. Given the circumstances with the break-ins earlier this week, Taylor was under no moral obligation in my opinion to notify either his employer or his coach that he was going home (would you ask your boss for permission to go home to protect your family?). He did anyways. The first thing I would do, upon news that my house was broken into, would be to put a FIREARM at the top of my grocery list. Sean Taylor did not do that. Consider why, emphasis added:

Sharpstein said that at the time the person or persons entered the house, making a noise in the living room that startled Sean and his wife, Sean's baby was in her crib. However, as they heard the clutter Sean reached for the machete under his bed - he is prohibited from having a firearm from his prior felony weapons charge...
Does that at all sound like the behavior of a sociopath? Deliberate (and perhaps ultimately lethal?) adherence to the rule of law?

Sean Taylor died defending his family. He was not a menace, did not have a proven legal history of bad judgment on the record presented above, and was thought of highly by those who knew him best. He deserves better than to have his character and record assassinated against the facts by thousands of people who conclude without evidence that he was of low moral fiber. Since I didn't know him, I can't say with certainty that he was of high moral fiber (though am willing to lean towards that conclusion on the word of those around him as well as his actions -- heroic, absolutely bad ass actions -- at the time of his death). But without some greater showing of fact than that available in a Michael Wilbon Q&A (none) or a short blurb in an ESPN article (very little, none of it damning), I refuse to purchase the narrative that Taylor was a bad person just because it says so.

HTTR