Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Keep It Real

I don’t know what happened in the Sean Taylor murder and perhaps we’ll never know, but it’s not just a random burglary and shooting. Taylor had his scrapes with the law and at one point was charged with brandishing a weapon during some alleged gang activity.

A week before the killing, there was a break in at his house and a knife was left on his bed. The murderer cut the phone lines to his house before they broke in, knocked down a locked bedroom door and fired two shots at Taylor, one fatal, hitting him in the leg.

Taylor’s girlfriend and his daughter weren’t involved, although both were there. Taylor grabbed a machete he kept by his bed, anticipating trouble. That, of course, didn’t help at all.

Police are pretty tight lipped but information will come out about what happened and how the shooter circumvented the security system and gained access to the house. Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post said that Taylor never “rejected a violent lifestyle,” and that appears to be true.

Many professional athletes come from neighborhoods riddled with violence, poor neighborhoods trouble seemingly at every turn. Some reject that, and others embrace it. Still others would like to get away from that life, only to be constantly lured back by the call of “keeping it real.”

I understand loyalty to the people who raised you and to the people who you grew up with, but it’s very difficult to comprehend athletes “keeping it real” when it’s illegal and puts their career and even lives at risk.

There’s a good article in Sports Illustrated about Michael Vick and his “friends” who all were part of his “Bad Newz” enterprise. The authors of the article theorize that most black athletes from poor neighborhoods are ill equipped to deal with the fame and money that comes their way as top-flight professional athletes. They don’t trust new people and consequently rely on their friends from “the neighborhood” to get things done, even if they’re not qualified.

Baron Davis, according to SI is a good example of somebody who still empowers his old neighborhood with educational initiatives and small business loans without succumbing to the entourage that Michael Vick and others carry around.

“I believe in helping the systems,” Davis said, “Not the individuals.”

The NFL tries to help rookies feel comfortable during their transition into professional sports with lectures and seminars about what you might call “life in the fast lane.” But after their rookie year it’s up to the team to continue those lessons and programs.

I have noticed that in NFL locker rooms there are posters about accountability, relationship abuse, firearms, gambling and off-field behavior. Whether any of the players takes the time to read them is anybody’s guess.

But the league is starting to understand that if there’s an issue that can be directly related to ticket sales and reputation it’s off-field behavior. “I don’t relate to the culture at the games anymore,” one Jaguars season ticket holder told me recently. “The players don’t seem to have any interest in relating to the fans and it turns me off.”

I know exactly what he was talking about but told him he’s got to be willing to move in the player’s direction and vise-versa. “You’re never going to be black or young again,” I explained, but the league is mainly a young, black man’s game.

The problem is the ticket buying public is mainly white and either middle aged or old. So the two sides are going to have to find some “middle ground,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell has instituted a personal conduct policy that is the first step in bringing the players in line with what could be called normal behavior.

Did you hear Joe Gibbs say he didn’t know that Taylor was in Miami? It’s no surprise because with the amount of money the players have at their disposal, leaving Sunday after the game and returning for practice Wednesday morning doesn’t mean just going home and cutting the grass. Chartered jets headed to Miami Beach or Vegas are a regular occurrence for a “getaway.”

So it’s a big issue and one that’s not going away.
The only way to fix it is to work on it.

From both sides.