I didn't know Sean Taylor. I cannot tell you why he died. What he was into. What he wasn't.
I also cannot tell you what kind of man he was. And neither can many people in the media. But that hasn't stopped them from trying.
Taylor, 24, a Washington Redskins defensive back, was murdered last week, shot by someone who broke into his home. Police are investigating. And that is all we really know.
That, and that Taylor had, at times, run with dangerous people, he had a weapons conviction on his record, and he kept a machete by his bed. These are facts.
So is this: He rarely spoke to reporters. So it was interesting to watch so many of them canonize him as a man who was "turning his life around." You lost track of how many writers and broadcasters repeated the claim in the immediate hours after his death, often citing a 1-year-old daughter as cause for his enlightenment.
One ESPN panelist said, "He had a family, wife, small child and from all appearances he appeared to be turning his life around." The Sporting News wrote "becoming a parent had apparently given Taylor a new purpose and helped him mature."
One Washington Post writer said of Taylor: "He once was lost, but now was found."
THE RUSH TO JUDGMENT
Now, maybe some of these people, at best, spent a moment with a microphone or notepad in front of Taylor. I doubt many knew him. I doubt they ever went to his Miami home. I doubt any saw the machete in his bedroom.
So how do we know where his life was? Maybe it was turned around. Maybe it was turned back. Maybe he knew the person who killed him. Maybe it was a burglary gone bad. Taylor is the fourth current or former Miami (Fla.) football player to be murdered in the last 15 years. Maybe that means something, maybe it doesn't.
But if this world has taught us anything when sports mixes with crime, it is to hold our tongues. Wait and see. Do not rush into tragic prose, idealized caricatures or familiar stereotypes especially using comments from upset friends or relatives as facts. When the Duke lacrosse case broke, the quick consensus was spoiled white kids raped black single mother. It turned out to be a big lie. When Len Bias died, there were instant experts lamenting his overworked heart and his large body until we discovered it was cocaine that killed him.
Who knows what happened with Taylor? His house had been broken into eight days earlier, yet nothing had been taken. Taylor left the team to deal with that. Then he left the team again without telling his coach to spend the night in Miami on Sunday. To most observers, that's at least a little curious.
A NEED FOR PATIENCE
As for his life being turned around? Who knows? Yes, he had a baby daughter. Not to be harsh, but so what? Maybe it truly opened his eyes to a positive life. Maybe it didn't. Maybe that's how mourning friends want to see it. Maybe it was a combination.
You could just as easily state that Taylor wasn't married to the mother of that daughter. This doesn't make him a bad guy. It's just a fact like having a daughter. Beyond that, what you draw are your own conclusions.
But from E.G. Simpson to Floyd Landis to Michael Vick, quick assumptions about athletes the minute controversy strikes often based on teammates or friends can leave people backtracking and embarrassed. Sean Taylor was murdered. He is gone forever. Many teammates liked him. Those are facts.
But "once was lost, now was found"? That's some pretty strong assuming. And in journalism, to canonize someone too quickly should be as wrong as besmirching someone too quickly.
Time will tell. It always does. And after time tells, then we can. In today's rush to break news, to analyze news, to eulogize faster and better than anyone else, "wait" may be a four-letter word. But it's a four-letter word that needs to be part of our vocabulary.