Just trying to make sense of it… by Michael Friedman

Last year, 17,034 people were murdered in the United States.  I didn’t know any of them.  Since the start of combat operations on March 19, 2003, 3,876 American soldiers and perhaps over a million Iraqis have died in Iraq.  I didn’t know any of them.  Yesterday, Sean Taylor was murdered in his home outside of Miami.  I didn’t know him either.  However, since Taylor played for my favorite football team, I feel a more personal, profound sadness for his murder than I do for the other deaths that are no less tragic to the families and friends of the victims.


As a critical sports scholar, I feel the need to ask why I am reacting emotionally in this way.  Do I mourn for Taylor’s family?  Do I mourn for the loss of a young man with such enormous potential?  Do I mourn for the team – a bunch of people who have lost a friend and co-worker?  Do I mourn for my team which will not be as competitive now that it has lost its best player?  Do I mourn for the potential enjoyment from watching Taylor that I will not get to experience?


In my humanity, I hope I could honestly answer yes to the first three questions as the reasons for my grief and that the final two questions play no part.  In reality, I am not so sure about the source of my feelings.  Such is the curse of a critical sensibility.


Over the next few days, people will discuss their feelings of loss on countless radio shows in the Washington area, post comments on the Internet, talk to friends and loved ones, and shed tears for a man they never met. The media will write moving tributes about the man and athlete (who, ironically, refused to talk to the press this year, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/26/AR2007102602183.html), will dissect the tragic event and people’s reactions to it, and will provide frequent updates about the investigation.  By the time the local media moves on to the next big story, it is likely that Taylor’s death will receive the most local coverage of any tragic event since September 11, 2001, and certainly more coverage than any of the 1,250 or so murders that have occurred since that date in the District of Columbia.


The real tragedy in this event is the death of a 24 year old man, who leaves behind a 1-year old daughter, a loving family, and countless friends and acquaintances.  This event is only different from the thousands of murders committed in the United States each year in that the victim is an elite athlete, an exalted person in our celebrity culture.


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