- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2008

Jason Taylor not only conquered a pronounced and lingering fear, he did it in front of millions of people.

“I was terrified of dancing in public,” the Washington Redskins defensive end said. “I didn’t dance at my wedding. Snakes, spiders and dancing. And heights. Heights is in there, too, but dancing was probably higher than heights.”

When he was 10, Taylor was dancing at a party to a Michael Jackson song when he tried to spin and fell against a speaker, suffering a cut between his eyes. The scar is still visible. But he wasn’t scarred emotionally; the fears began when he grew up. And up and up. He stands 6-foot-6 and weighs about 240 pounds.

“As a kid, you don’t care,” he said. “But being 6-6 and long, it just doesn’t bode well for dancing. You just look awkward and lanky and silly. I was kind of a wallflower. If I went somewhere where they were playing music, I’d lean against a wall and watch everybody else.”

He added, “I’m serious. I was very terrified of it. I was very, very scared.”

Yet Taylor, pushed by his agent, Gary Wichard, shook off his apprehensions and agreed to appear last spring on the sixth season of the hit reality series “Dancing With the Stars.” After practicing six hours a day, Taylor, whose agility and quickness on the field have never been questioned, and his partner, Edyta Sliwinska, tangoed and mamboed their way to a second-place finish.

Still, it was a tough sell. “Hell no,” Taylor said he told Wichard when the subject first came up. His wife, Katina, concurred. “You can’t dance,” she said, according to Taylor. But Wichard kept hammering at Taylor, whose post-football plans include a career in show business. Finally, he relented.

“I had a good time and I made a little money,” he said. “It exposed a whole new world, a whole new way of doing things - the entertainment business. And I really learned a lot about myself. It was cool when I finally got out there and danced in front of everybody. I was like, ‘Damn, I just danced in front of …’ There’s 300 people in the studio, but you’ve got to realize there’s millions watching on TV. I’m like, ‘Wow, I just danced in front of everybody.’”

Within a few months, a huge new audience that knew little about football got to know Jason Taylor.

But his newfound fame came with a price. Taylor was a fixture with the Miami Dolphins for 11 years, known for his charity work and Hall of Fame credentials (he was named NFL defensive player of the year in 2006 and made six Pro Bowls).

Still, his offseason preparation for “Dancing,” at the expense of team activities, was not entirely well-received. Not for a player who had two years and $15.5 million left on his contract.

Among those irked most of all was Bill Parcells, the irascible president and general manager of the Dolphins. In July, Taylor was traded to the Redskins.

It was the culmination of a dispute he views with a certain degree of irony, given how the NFL hammers home the importance of establishing a life beyond football.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Taylor, who came away from a chance meeting with Parcells in Miami a few weeks ago declaring there are no lingering hard feelings. “They preach the whole time about life after football and preparing and all that stuff. And then when you go do it, you get chastised.”

But his new life with the Redskins hasn’t gone as planned. Not for the team or for Taylor, who ranks second in career sacks among active players. In September, he suffered a freakish calf injury, known as compartment syndrome, which required emergency surgery. Not long afterward, he underwent a second surgery after an infection set in.

Taylor has recovered and is back in the lineup after missing three games, but it’s been a difficult recovery, physically and mentally. He also is 34. Redskins coach Jim Zorn said he and his staff are moving Taylor around, trying to find spots where he can best be used. But success has been sporadic, at best.

“I don’t think he has gotten into any comfort zone yet,” Zorn said. “He had the major setback, and for a defensive lineman it takes some time to get into a rhythm.”

Said Taylor, “It’s been tough. Everybody in this game gets injured, because that’s the way the game is. But to have something that´s so nagging. … It’s kind of silly in its nature. The whole compartment syndrome is so foreign to a lot of people. There are guys in the league who have never dealt with it before. It’s been frustrating.”

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