There are many details to be sorted out in the shooting death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, but this much we do know: This was a man whose life appeared to be changing for the better.
That's the only thought that kept going through my mind after hearing Taylor had died early Tuesday morning, a day after being shot by an intruder in his South Florida home. This wasn't the same immature kid who spent his first two seasons baffling Redskins management with poor decision making. This was a young father, a hard-hitting defender fresh off a Pro Bowl season, a maturing 24-year-old who finally understood what it took to be a professional.
Now there certainly are plenty of people who will say that Taylor's death is about more than just football, and there is no question about that. But what can't be dismissed is that most of what we know about Sean Taylor relates to football. Taylor rarely talked to reporters and most of our insight into his life came from his on-field performance and off-field issues. It's apparent that the playing part was never much of a problem for him. The off-field stuff was another issue, especially during Taylor's first two seasons.
But the feeling from the Redskins was that Taylor had put the problems that plagued him early in his career behind him -- including the seven fines he'd received for late hits and other infractions, and the $25,000 fine he incurred for skipping a mandatory rookie symposium after the Redskins selected him fifth overall in the 2004 draft. He was no longer the same man who had been accused of brandishing a gun during a fight in 2005. In that case, Taylor accepted a plea agreement of two misdemeanors and received 18 months' probation.
Yet somehow, through all those issues, he had started the valuable process of growing up. The most obvious sign was the relationship he had with his 1-year-old daughter, Jackie.
"It's hard to expect a man to grow up overnight, but ever since he had his child, it was like a new Sean, and everybody around here knew it," Redskins running back Clinton Portis told reporters. "He was always smiling, always happy, always talking about his child."
Teammates always claimed that Taylor had more common sense than he displayed early in his career. It's much easier to believe that when observing his behavior since Jackie was born in May 2006.
Not only had Taylor avoided trouble, but he had become even better on the field. A few weeks ago, Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams gushed about how Taylor had become the best safety in the league, a defender whose intimidating combination of size (6-foot-2, 212 pounds) and speed allowed him to excel in coverage and against the run. The more you listened to people talk about Taylor, the more you sensed he had turned an important corner in his life and his career.
But now we must reflect.
Taylor apparently had lost so much blood from an arterial wound in his leg that he wound up in a coma shortly after reaching Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. There had been some signs of hope -- Redskins vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato told the media Monday that doctors were encouraged by Taylor's ability to squeeze a physician's hand on request and show facial expressions. But Taylor's injuries were too severe. Now his family and friends and the Redskins are left wondering how to make sense of this tragedy.