Wilbon on Sean Taylor

From a WaPo chat with sports writer Michael Wilbon:

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Dulles, Va.: Michael, what our your thoughts on pro athletes' need to protect themselves? Or any celeb for that matter? If you make this kind of money, shouldn't you employ security for protection and chauffeur for driving? I keep seeing celebs getting into altercations that should have been handled by someone else, or getting arrested for drunk driving. What's up?

Michael Wilbon: I don't know that professional football players, who aren't even recognized by 95 percent of the general public, are obvious targets outside of their own communities, though this is a very good question. Actors, people in the music industry, TV personalities and basketball stars are instantly recognized...and I mean instantly. Football players, other than a handful of quarterbacks and star running backs or wide receivers ... not so much. I've seen Sean Taylor walk into places in D.C. and hardly anybody knows who he is ... same with Clinton Portis, who is on TV without his helmet much more than Taylor. Still, I'm no expert on what people should do to protect themselves, their homes and families. I will share that growing up in Chicago, in a middle-class home on the South Side of Chicago, my dad had a gun and was very specific with no wiggle room on how my brother and I should treat it and any use of it. So much of this and how people feel about it depends on where you live, how you grew up. My dad was a Southerner, very used to guns and rifles. But my feelings are colored, like most people, by what my dad did and felt about it.

Despite the constant discussion about how much money professional athletes make, most outside the NBA and MLB do not make enough money to have 'round-the-clock security without soon going broke. More should have chauffeurs, in my opinion, especially if planning to drink ... agents and leagues should insist on it, even help arrange it. But don't hold your breath. Most have no need for either. But the cases of misbehavior are so public and often so spectacular we tend to think "most" athletes are involved in this kind of stuff, when the vast majority have no need for any of it.

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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.

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Herndon, Va.: Mike, there probably is no sportswriter who has written more extensively or thoughtfully on the larger societal issues that surround and affect the sports world than you. On that note, is it possible to consider the horrible Taylor shooting without thinking about why it is that young black athletes in particular seem to have such a hard time leaving the "street" behind when they become successful and wealthy? Or is race and culture just a red herring in what really is a personal or random tragedy?

Michael Wilbon: It's too complex, too big an issue with too many subtleties and nuances to simply label as anything. The ones who do have a hard time leaving the "streets" struggle because it's leaving home...for the same reasons the sons of rich families don't want to leave the country club or the beach house in Delaware. It's comfortable. Most know nothing else. They don't travel, don't go visit Martha's Vineyard for a week every summer. Some have no problem getting the hell away ... I know dozens of kids who took the first plane out the moment they could and never looked back. Forget what Isaiah Thomas has done lately as a coach/executive -- he's one who rejected the life from the moment he left the west side of Chicago for Indiana University and said "that's it, I'm out." Thousands do exactly why he did, a couple of dozen cities in the U.S. Some, increasingly, romanticize it, or are addicted to it, or find it irresistible. ... Some take awhile to divorce themselves from it ... think Allen Iverson, who after years of living dangerously, seems pretty far removed from that life now. Everybody's circumstance is different. But it always seemed to me that Sean Taylor loves his life and the way he's living and has no instinct to change...

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I think this difficulty in leaving the life you know behind was exactly the downfall of Michael Vick. Plenty of people from the 'other world', including Frank Beamer, had told him to ditch the company he grew up with. Vick couldn't, and those same people served as witnesses against him in the trial that sent him to jail.

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