Sunday, December 16, 2007

Kevin Blackistone of ESPN Sets the Record Straight

After seeing the letter from one of our writers at YourBlackWorld, my man Kevin Blackistone wanted to set the record straight on his perceptions of the Sean Taylor case. Kevin is a sports guru for AOL and XM Satellite. He is also a regular on the popular ESPN show "Around the Horn".

Kev and I were on CNN together a few months ago trying to figure out why the NFL still has work to do when it comes to hiring black coaches. At the same time, I would argue that it is the NCAA that refuses to let go of it's racist traditions.

Without further ado, here is the article that Kevin wrote on Sean Taylor:

Sean Taylor and Timothy Spicer lived and worked in metropolitan D.C., Taylor as star safety for Washington’s famous pro football team and Spicer as a short-order cook for a famous Washington eatery, Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Eric Rivera, Jr., 17, shown in the preliminary court hearing, was identified by the grand jury as the gunman in the murder of NFL star Sean Taylor.

Both were young; Taylor 24 and Spicer 25. Both enjoyed nice cars that young men often do; Taylor had a Yukon Denali and Spicer drove a shiny ‘94 Caprice on big silvery rims. Both young men were black.

And both are dead now, murdered.

Taylor died in the wee hours Tuesday morning in Miami from a gunshot wound he suffered early Monday from what authorities said was an intruder in Taylor's Miami-area home.

Spicer died two Saturdays ago in Washington after he was found shot multiple times as the victim of a carjacking of his Caprice.

The only reason the country learned of Taylor's death is his celebrity. Spicer's death remained local news, the 169th murder in D.C. this year, or as many as occurred here last year.

But Taylor and Spicer are as linked in tragedy as they were as young black men working in D.C. trying to make it to another day. Gun violence is the No. 1 killer of black men like Taylor and Spicer.

According to most recent disseminated data by the Center for Disease Control, Taylor and Spicer will be two of roughly 4,000 black homicide victims in the country this year killed by guns. Most, of course, won't be a pro athlete like Taylor but an everyman like Spicer.

It didn't matter if they were rich or working-class, went to college or dropped out of high school, lived in a near million dollar home with a remote control gate or in mom's apartment in a tough quarter of town. It didn’t matter if one was strapping, strong and fast as the wind and the other was more like everyone else.

It didn't matter if they were famous or known to only a few. It didn't matter if they were living their dreams or still chasing them. They didn't escape the pathology.

On the face of it, as news of Taylor being shot rolled through the 24-hour news cycle, it sounded as if Taylor shouldn't have succumbed to such a menace. His father worked in law enforcement. Taylor went to a prep high school and a private college, Miami. He was a multi-million-dollar athlete and even his dalliance with lawbreaking and gun brandishing was said to be something of his recent past. He was a father now too. He had someone to live for forever besides himself. But what do we know?

"Sometimes we assume that because one is raised a certain way one is going to come out a certain way," the recently retired NFL star receiver Keyshawn Johnson, now ESPN football analyst, told me by phone on Tuesday. "Look at Andy Reid's kids. He's coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and they're (sons) selling drugs out of the house. You can't assume that because Sean's dad was a police chief that his life…would be different. It depends on how you approach it." Johnson knows all too well. He was reared in the toughest section of South Los Angeles. He survived being shot twice. He was stuck up outside of his favorite barbershop with his kids in tow.

"You just become an easy target," Johnson said of being an athlete or any well-known person of means.
Darrent Williams was a Denver Broncos' defensive back doing a responsible thing while out last New Year’s enjoying the night. He was in a limousine. A wrong word or misunderstanding in a club turned into bullets fired into his ride. He was killed. He was Taylor's age and another statistic in the deadly demographic.

In the wake of Williams' death, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed alarm at the senseless gun death of a league player and of run-ins with the law involving guns that other players were going through. Not long after came defensive back Pacman Jones' incident at a Las Vegas club that left one man shot and paralyzed.

But this isn't, unfortunately, just a problem of professional athletics, Johnson pointed out. It is bigger than one genre of livelihood.

"You have to be very cautious…about your surroundings and about the company you do keep. You can’t worry about feeling like people are going to look at you and say, 'He's made it now so he doesn't come around.' Well, isn't that the whole point? Secure your life and secure your family and move on? The point is to be able to be successful and make it."

Taylor appeared to have reached that point. Spicer was still working at it with a budding clothing business and dreams of – what else? – producing rap music.
Now both are in the same sad statistical pool. A Miami black neighborhood was planning this week to protest three recent fatal police shootings of young black men. It may want to protest the shooting of young black men by other young black men, which is far more prevalent, when it is through.

There was a lot of outpouring of support almost immediately for Taylor. A candlelight vigil was held. A funeral that will be covered by the national media is probably being planned.

Some athletes interviewed about Taylor's demise served up the trite words we're accustomed to after such a horrific event. They said it reminded that they just played a game and that other things were much more important. It put things in perspective, the choir sang. It shouldn’t have, of course. These things in sports never should. Other things are always more important.

Sports are not a separate thread in the fabric of society. They are no more than another spec of alloy in the mirror that reflects it all.

Sean Taylor as well as Timothy Spicer were the latest victims in what is a near epidemic among young black men. If anything good can come from Taylor's demise it will be that more of us pay as much attention to, and express as much outrage and sadness for, the Spicers where we live too.

Kevin B. Blackistone is a regular panelist on ESPN's Around the Horn, an XM Satellite Radio host and a frequent sports opinionist on other outlets like National Public Radio and The Politico. A former award-winning sports columnist for The Dallas Morning News, he currently lives in Hyattsville, Md.

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