The impulse is to reach out to troubled souls like Sean Taylor — and that’s Joe Gibbs’ inclination, no doubt. In fact, Coach Joe’s Youth for Tomorrow home in Bristow, Va., might be just the place for Taylor. The kid could learn some important life skills there — such as the advisability of returning the boss’ phone calls.
But what does your gut tell you about Taylor? What does anybody’s gut tell him? It tells him — if we’re being honest — that Sean, as talented a safety as he is, simply isn’t worth the aggravation for the Redskins. His act has gone from juvenile (blowing off part of the league’s mandatory rookie symposium) to embarrassing (his difficulties reciting the alphabet when pulled over for suspected drunken driving) to defiant (boycotting voluntary offseason workouts) to, perhaps, criminal (if there’s any validity to these charges in Miami that include aggravated assault with a firearm).
Yes, it’s gotten scary. The Redskins’ approach with him thus far — Extreme Patience — has borne little fruit. The club has kept giving him rope, and he’s continued to construct a hangman’s noose with it, one that might have room not just for his neck, but for Gibbs’ and a few others’ as well.
And so I say: Cut it. Cut the rope. The Redskins cut it with Laveranues Coles — a choir boy by comparison — so why not cut it with Taylor, too? It’s after June 1; the salary cap impact wouldn’t be felt until next year, when the new TV contracts kick in and teams will have more money to spend. Just … let … Taylor … go. (Unless, of course, there’s a team out there foolish enough to give up something for him.)
Gibbs, being a godly man, is a devout believer in forgiveness and a person’s capacity for change. But some players, alas, just ain’t worth it. Michael Westbrook, for instance. The Redskins went through a similar situation with Westbrook in the ‘90s, though his behavior wasn’t nearly as extreme. They kept hoping he’d mature, develop into the Pro Bowler he was projected to be, but he never did. And now, looking back, don’t you wish they’d cut their losses with him earlier — say, as soon after the Stephen Davis Sucker-Punching as feasible?
For those who think I’m being overly harsh toward Taylor, I have just one question:
Name an NFL player in the last 25 years who’s had a more turbulent first 14 months than Sean. Go ahead, take your time. (I’m still mulling it over myself.) The guy is making the Wrong Kind of Headlines at a record-shattering pace. As bizarre rookie seasons go, his ranks right up there with Joe Don Looney’s. Heck, next to Sean, Randy Moss looks low maintenance.
Granted, bailing out on such a high draft pick (fifth overall) so early in his career would be unusual. But if the Redskins need any encouragement, I would refer them to the Saints, who got tired of Ricky Williams “being Ricky” and packed him off to Miami after just three seasons. Think New Orleans has ever regretted that move? Just last week, the Seahawks decided to end their baby-sitting arrangement with Koren Robinson; and, of course, the Vikings shipped Moss to the Raiders for a fraction of his “value,” just to be rid of him.
There’s a common thread with all three of these players, and the thread is this: There were early warning signs of trouble, the clubs tried to ride them out, but it was just no use. Knuckleheadedness, it turns out, is a difficult habit to break, worse than nail biting.
But I suspect the Redskins will give Taylor every opportunity; Gibbs’ track record suggests as much. After Tony Peters missed the ‘83 season because of his involvement in a drug deal, he returned to play two more years for the club. Then there’s Dexter Manley. His increasingly erratic behavior, which included a drug suspension, was tolerated right up through the ‘89 season — at which point, then-Cardinals coach Joe Bugel, a former (and current) Gibbs lieutenant, took Dexter in.
There’s a fine line, though, between extending a helping hand and being an enabler. You wonder whether Kellen Winslow Sr. wasn’t being guilty of the latter when he tore into the media the other day over their coverage of his son’s motorcycle follies, which will cause Young Kellen to miss the season.
“I’m disappointed in the way you guys have handled it,” he said. “Twenty-one-year-old people make mistakes. He made a mistake. You made it a circus. Remember when you were 21? A human being at 21 makes mistakes. …
“You guys look at it as a moment of time, and you blow it out of proportion. This Jerry Springer mentality of journalism, you guys are better than that. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
You’d think his son had been arrested for jaywalking, the way the Hall of Fame tight end carried on. (I’d also take issue with his charge that the media “made it a circus.” Actually, it was Kellen Jr., with his death-defying motorcycle stunts, who made it a circus. We just added the well-deserved pie in the face for good measure.)
But so it goes in sports these days. You have athletes behaving badly, and you have their supporters, by the scores, lining up to defend them, to explain them, to minimize their acts. What the Redskins have to ask themselves, in the wake of this latest Sean Taylor public relations disaster, is: At what point are we perfectly within our rights to say, “Enough”? Looks to me like they’re already there.