Sean Taylor wasn’t perfect. His teammates, friends, and family could all tell you that. In fact, the young Washington Redskins safety had a checkered past that involved a DUI arrest and an aggravated assault charge early in his NFL career. By many accounts, Taylor was not a typical football star, a man who rarely gave interviews or spoke much about his personal life.
Born and raised in a middle-class neighborhood in Miami, Sean Taylor was an athletic young man from the very beginning. His father Pedro, a local police officer, helped Taylor build stamina starting when he was very small. Because his biological mother, Donna, lost custody of him when he was nine years old, Taylor grew up alongside his dad, his great-grandmother, and his half-siblings.
Taylor was very different from his muscular, charismatic dad; he was a quiet kid who only opened up to his close friends. He often trained, ran, and lifted weights by himself. In high school at Killian High and later at Gulliver Prep, he let his play on the field do the talking for him.
“Sometimes he didn’t want to let anyone into his little circle,” says former Killian teammate Charles Allen.
A highly-regarded football prospect, Taylor chose the University of Miami as the place to continue his playing career. He was one of only four true freshmen to play for Larry Coker’s 2001 national championship team. Taylor quickly earned a reputation for his hard hits and played the 2002 and 2003 seasons as a starting safety for the Hurricanes. In 2003, he was named a unanimous All-American, the Big East Conference defensive player of the year, and was also a finalist for the prestigious Jim Thorpe Award.
After deciding to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft, Taylor was selected by the Washington Redskins with the fifth pick in the opening round.
By this time, Taylor had reconnected with his mother and was doing his best to bring his family closer together. Right after draft day, he even paid $17,000 to give championship rings to his little brother’s Pop Warner team.
With the Redskins, Taylor was soon noticed by his teammates for his tenacious tackles, earning the nickname “Meast” – half man, half beast.
Despite his ferocious hits on the field, Taylor ran into legal trouble almost immediately during his NFL career. In addition to the aforementioned DUI and assault arrests, he was fined or penalized several times by the NFL for uniform infractions and other violations.
“Sean was focused on himself and at times rebelled against authority. He was clearly struggling as a new guy,” recalls then-Redskins coach Joe Gibbs.
Around this time, Taylor began to reflect on his life. Both the assault and the DUI charges were dropped and he was doing probation, but he sensed that he needed to take control of his life – not just for his sake, but for his family’s sake. His high school sweetheart, Jackie Garcia, was expecting their first child.
On the field, Taylor’s outstanding play continued, as he was was named to the 2006 Pro Bowl. In their 2007 NFL preview issue, Sports Illustrated named Taylor the league’s hardest hitter. And early in the 2007 season, Taylor was on track to have his best season yet – 42 tackles, a forced fumble, and five interceptions – before he was sidelined by a knee injury.
After the birth of his daughter, Taylor began to become more responsible, and his Redskin teammates noticed. He seemed more humble, more considerate, and very serious about being a role model for his 18-month-old daughter. Teammates and coaches noticed that he was smiling and joking more, and that he always came to practice prepared.
Clinton Portis, the Redskins’ running back and one of Taylor’s closest friends on the team, had taken notice of Taylor’s newfound maturity. He recalled a conversation that he had with Taylor in November that dealt with the subject of fatherhood. Portis, who had just become a father at the time, recalled Sean saying that they were both lucky and blessed to be able to be parents.
Something had definitely changed in Taylor’s life. He had begun going to church again, getting advice from the Redskin team chaplains, and doing his best to turn his life around. He had been baptized recently by his pastor at his church in Florida City following a profession of Christ at an altar call in July.
On the evening of November 26, 2007, Taylor was recovering from his injury at his home in the Palmetto Bay neighborhood of Miami when he heard noises coming from outside the house. In an attempted robbery, at least four teenagers broke into Taylor’s home. Taylor took Jackie and their daughter and told them to hide under the bed.
The Pro Bowl safety grabbed a nearby machete and went downstairs to investigate. At some point, one of the intruders shot at Taylor, wounding him in the upper leg. Taylor soon slipped into unconsciousness while Jackie called 911.
Taylor was rushed to the trauma unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he had emergency surgery. Despite the best efforts of the doctors, Taylor remained in a coma due to loss of blood from his femoral artery. He passed away at about 3:30 AM on November 27.
Taylor’s murder sent shockwaves throughout the Redskins organization, the DC and Miami areas, and the entire NFL. An NFL star had never died halfway through the season before, much less in the brutal fashion that Taylor was killed. The Redskins paid respects to Taylor the rest of the season by wearing his #21 on their helmets. Over 3,000 people attended Taylor’s memorial service in Miami.
It might seem odd to honor Taylor, however tragic his death was. After all, he was considered a shy and private individual who kept to himself. He was also a man with a checkered past both on and off the field. Mike Wise of The Washington Post wrote after the funeral, “The hard truth is that we know more about Sean Taylor in death than life. And there is something so wrong about that.”
Again, Taylor wasn’t perfect. But I have a lot of respect for him and how he desired to turn his life around, not for his own sake, but for God and his family. Yes, he made lots of mistakes. But as the saying goes, “every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” It’s unfortunate that Taylor’s future was so short, but it’s still an inspiring story – that it’s never too late to change.
In Taylor’s last known interview (before the 2007 season started), he said, “You can’t be scared of death. When that time comes, it comes. You never see a person who has lived their life to the fullest. They sometimes feel sorry for a child, maybe, that didn’t get a chance to do some of the things they thought that they might have a chance to do in life. But I’ve been blessed. God’s looked out for me, so I’m happy.”
Rest in peace, Sean. Redskins Nation misses you…