With no end in sight to the owner-imposed lockout, the NFL has canceled its annual rookie symposium. That’s the event where league officials and veteran players attempt to educate the newcomers about the temptations and dangers of sudden money and celebrity.
Ironically, the news of the symposium’s absence in 2011 came in the same week as Friday’s hearing for the suspects in the shooting death of Sean Taylor.
It’s ironic because seven years ago, Taylor, who had been drafted fifth overall by the Washington Redskins, began his litany of NFL discipline by being fined $25,000 for walking out of the rookie symposium a day early.
Over the next three-plus years, the incredibly gifted but shy safety would: plead guilty to misdemeanors after threatening three men who allegedly had stolen two of his all-terrain vehicles in Miami; be pulled over for a DUI; and be fined numerous times for uniform violations, late hits and spitting at opponents. He also irritated coach Joe Gibbs by skipping almost the entire offseason program at Redskin Park.
Taylor matured over the years, especially after the birth of his daughter Jackie in 2006, but never warmed up to many people outside of his family, buddies from his native South Florida and his defensive backfield mates and coaches. Taylor’s interviews with the media were nearly as rare as Redskins playoff victories.
When I told a veteran offensive player that I felt I had learned more about Taylor in the two weeks after his death than I had during the three-plus years I had covered him, the player replied, “Me, too.”
But there was no disputing Taylor’s excellence on the field. Still just 24 in his fourth season, he was a 2007 Defensive Player of the Year candidate when he injured a knee in Philadelphia on Nov. 11. The Redskins allowed him to go home when they visited Tampa Bay on Nov. 25. Early the next morning, some thugs who were connected to Taylor’s half-brother tried to burglarize his South Florida home, thinking he wouldn’t be there.
Taylor, who kept a machete in his bedroom for protection, confronted the intruders, who shot him. He died the next day. More than three and a half years later, four of the five the suspects have yet to be tried. The fifth has pleaded guilty and is expected to be a witness for the prosecution.
And now as the NFL endures its greatest trial since the 1987 strike, its current crop of rookies sadly won’t receive the lessons about whom to trust, etc. that Taylor might have benefited from if he foolishly hadn’t left the symposium early.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.