I know that I usually only write about the Steelers, but I thought that Lawrence Taylor’s latest problems deserved a mention.
As most of you have heard by now, Lawrence Taylor was arrested for allegedly raping a 16-year old runaway. The runaway was apparently beaten by her pimp before being delivered to Taylor’s room at the Holiday Inn. Taylor allegedly paid her $300 for sex.
The reason that I even mention this story is not because I am interested in tabloid journalism. I think we’ve all had enough of that with the whole Ben Roethlisberger issue.
No, I write about this because Lawrence Taylor falls into a very small list of players who played for other teams that I respected, and even admired.
Make no mistake. I bleed black and gold. In my opinion, there are two kinds of NFL players; Pittsburgh Steelers, and players who don’t deserve to be on the same field as the Pittsburgh Steelers. But there are a few exceptions to this general rule.
Over the course of my years as a football fan, a few non-Steelers have actually earned my respect and admiration. Lawrence Taylor is one of them. The others who quickly come to mind include Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Peyton Manning (yeah, I admit it), Reggie White, and Walter Payton.
Lawrence Taylor may have been the most dominant defensive player of all-time. He was certainly the most dominant linebacker. Sure, there have been many great linebackers over the years, and many of them have played for our Pittsburgh Steelers. But Lawrence Taylor was different. Lawrence Taylor redefined the position. Anyone who was fortunate enough to see Lawrence Taylor play knows exactly what I’m talking about.
Taylor was a joy to watch. Opponents feared him. Offensive coordinators had to plan for him. Offensive linemen couldn’t stop him. I hated him. But it was a hatred that was based on respect.
It’s sad to see such a great player struggle so greatly off the field. As good as Taylor was on the field, he has been equally bad off the field. He’s had multiple run-ins with the law. He has a well-documented history of struggling with drug addiction.
Far too often, fans place professional athletes on a pedestal. We idolize them, and expect them to be more than human. Unfortunately, far too frequently they remind us that they are very human. Big Ben reminded us of that lately. Now Lawrence Taylor has done the same.
I was fortunate to have spent many years working in the athletic footwear industry. I met hundreds of professional athletes, and signed many of them to endorsement contracts. During that time, I got to see many of them outside of the playing field. And all too often, the person that I saw was a flawed shadow of the person that fans thought they were.
Many (most?) of the athletes that I met were poorly educated. Most of them had a sense of entitlement. A great percentage of them used illegal drugs. And most of them cheated on their wives and girlfriends. It’s not the way that we want to think of our heroes. But it’s how far too many of them are.
I want to remember Lawrence Taylor as the dominant player that I used to admire on the football field. But to separate that person from the one who now finds himself in trouble with the law (again) would be wrong.
At some point, fans have to understand that most of their heroes are terribly flawed. This point has been driven home lately by the Ben Roethlisberger situation. Despite the fact that Ben was not found guilty of a crime, I’m sure that there aren’t many out there who condone Ben’s behavior.
I pray that Lawrence Taylor, Ben Roethlisberger, and many other professional athletes will become great men, and not just great athletes. But the sad truth is that that is not likely to happen. That’s why I think we all need to appreciate how lucky we are to have players like Troy Polamalu, Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and Aaron Smith playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pro sports is populated by far too many Lawrence Taylors, and far too few Troy Polamalus.
LT is in my prayers. Perhaps his story will ultimately end up as a tale of redemption. But I thank God that we have players like Troy to show us what character looks like, both on and off the field.