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Sean Taylor, the remarkable all-pro defensive back for the Washington Redskins, was only 24 when he was shot to death at his home last week. He was in his prime, a new father, a man according to his coaches and teammates with a love for the game, and a new sense of maturity with the birth of his daughter.
He loved to play football and he was an arresting player—fast, fearless, and fierce. As a great athlete, he became a giant, a hero—like it or not—to millions of fans in the Washington area. His sudden murder touched an entire community. Celebrities like Taylor become part of our extended family. His fans don’t really know him; only a rare few had met him or seen him in person. But many knew about his personal life, his dislike of the press, his troubles and his triumphs. They share the grief felt by his family, his friends and his teammates.
What do we learn from this loss? First, we must remember what made him and his teammates such great athletes. The National Football League season is one of peaks and valleys, triumphs and setbacks, wins and losses. The best—the champions—learn how to come back. They learn from their losses, put them behind them, and win the next time out. They understand that neither the peaks nor the valleys are permanent unless we make them so.
The loss of a life is unimaginably greater than the loss of a game or a season. But the lesson is the same. We should not give up simply because of this terrible loss. We should learn from it, and rededicate ourselves from it.
What should we learn? In a modern society, overrun by guns and drugs, none of us are safe. The young and the strong are at risk, just as are the old and the weak. The wealthy cannot build walls high enough to create true islands in a sea of turmoil. There is no fireproof room in a house that is burning.
We should learn once more that America’s house is on fire. Some ask why didn’t Sean have a gun to protect his family? But more guns and more fire won’t make us safe. We already have more guns than any other industrial nation—and more crime with guns as well. The gun peddlers are selling a false security.
Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sean Taylor—the tragedies keep coming. We are slow learners. Now it is legal to own and sell semi-automatic weapons. In an age of terror, restrictions on guns are being rolled back, not increased. Police fear that they are outgunned on streets. Pilots fear that a lone terrorist armed with a weapon bought in a gun show without background check could take out a plane taking off or landing. The administration has trampled the Constitution when it comes to privacy and wiretaps and probable cause. But Bush and the judges he has appointed have rolled back sensible regulation of guns.
Sean Taylor was a defensive player with an offensive flair. He intercepted passes, created fumbles, returned kicks. He knew that any good game plan requires both offense and defense. Surely, his death tells us we need a new game plan when it comes to guns and drugs. We need a smarter offense in schools, on the street, in our cities and neighborhoods.
Sean Taylor died alone with his family, but we must do this together. At this point, we are headed to a society that gives up on itself. The divide between rich and poor is at new extremes. Most working people are struggling just to get by. Our cities are divided starkly between rich and poor. The wealthy seek to build walls to protect themselves. They hire their own police; they buy their own islands.
Sean Taylor’s tragic death tells us once more this doesn’t work. We are in this together. We’ve got to build an America of opportunity, of a prosperity which is widely shared. We’ve got to enforce public safety—and a common strategy on drugs and guns.
The NFL paid tribute to Sean Taylor this week. The Washington team and his fans mourned his loss. Now we must learn from it, pick ourselves up, and rededicate ourselves.
Sean Taylor was a champion. Knocked down, he would get up. He knew that the ground is no place for a champion. This country is a great country. Now let us get up, and make it so.
Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. n can be contacted by e-mail at