Earlier this week, slain NFL star Sean Taylor was buried after a Miami funeral service that drew thousands of mourners. But his family says there's something else that needs to be laid to rest: reports of the Washington Redskins safety's troubled past.
"It was painful, because we knew none of that was true," Taylor’s grandmother, Constance Dingle, who helped raise him, told ESSENCE. "It was even more upsetting to hear that he caused his own killing. But those of us who knew him, knew better."
On November 26, Taylor was shot in the groin inside his Miami area home after surprising four intruders during a botched robbery attempt. He later died in a hospital from the effects of massive blood loss.
But even before any suspect was apprehended, age-old stories were dredged up about Taylor's defiant behavior on and off the field and his brushes with the law, suggesting the athlete frequently invited trouble. For example, a number media outlets reported that Taylor skipped part of a mandatory rookie symposium, drawing a $25,000 fine. Others reported that he was charged with DUI in 2004. The charges were later dropped. In 2005, he was arrested for assaulting someone Taylor believed had stolen from him. Some news outlets even suggested that a break-in at Taylor's home a mere eight days prior to his murder—an incident in which a kitchen knife was left on a bed—was irrefutable evidence of the athlete's ongoing connection to shady characters.
The arrest and subsequent indictment of the four young men involved in Taylor’s murder cleared up any suspicion about whether the football player had a hand in his own death. But Dingle, who raised Taylor in a middle class Miami neighborhood withTaylor's police chief father Pedro, told ESSENCE that his reputation as an angry thug who had turned his life around was an unfair portrait in the first place.
Dingle says her grandson was a loyal friend and homebody who preferred to spend time with his high school sweetheart, Jackie Garcia, and their 18-month old daughter than hit the clubs. He often attended church with his grandmother. He saw his stardom as a burden, Dingle says, because he was often pinned for various offenses, just because of who he was.
If anything, it was his kindness, says Dingle, that led him to his killers. He often let his 21-year-old sister, Sasha Johnson, stay at his $900,000 home while he was away. She threw herself a birthday party at his mansion while house-sitting during the Thanksgiving holidays. Some reports claim that at least some of Taylor's alleged killers were there and that his sister dated a relative of one of the suspects.
At his memorial service earlier this week, teammates, family and friends gave heartfelt speeches about Taylor and how he was often misunderstood. His grandmother believes Sean didn't die in vain, saying, "Maybe God used Sean to get a message across that people need to stop all this killing and get their lives together."