On Monday, thousands of family, friends and fans joined the entire Washington Redskins team at the Florida International University, to pay their last respects to Sean Taylor.
The funeral service was an emotional roller-coaster of personal experiences, comical anecdotes and touching reflections about Sean, and it included an impassioned plea from the Reverend Jesse Jackson to end gun violence in the United States.
“One day it’s Columbine. One day it’s Virginia Tech – Now it’s Sean Taylor”, Jackson said, “We’re slow learners. We’re in a hole looking for a shovel when we need a rope. We need a new game plan. We need a stronger defence.”
“There is no fireproof room in a burning house. Our American house is on fire.”
Along with the Reverend Jackson’s political message, he also brought a powerful presence of positivity. “Let me hear you scream!” he shouted as he encouraged the audience to cheer Taylor’s memory. “One more time! This is a celebration!”
Reverend Jackson sat in the front row beside Sean’s father Pedro.
Redskin coach Joe Gibbs spoke of Sean’s love for football, and of his football abilities. “Sean was our first draft choice,” Gibbs said, “I thought many times over that four years how many times God must have looked down and said, ‘Man – I made a good football player.'”
Gibbs also spoke about Sean’s vigor for life, and about his maturation process, “His life began to change. You saw the way he loved Jackie and Jackie.”
Jackie Garcia, Taylor’s girlfriend, is the niece of actor Andy Garcia, who was also there to pay his respects.
Among the estimated 3000 in attendance were 28 other NFL players — including Jeremy Shockey and Sinorice Moss (New York Giants); Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis Colts); Edgerrin James (Arizona Cardinals); Devin Hester (Chicago Bears); and Andre Johnson (Houston Texans) — all University of Miami alumnae. Current Miami coach Randy Shannon was among the speakers, and former coaches Larry Coker and Butch Davis were also there.
Buck Ortega played with Sean in high school and at Miami, and really struggled to get through what he wanted to say. He talked about their mutual love of the water, and how their football friendship had grown into more. He choked out a few anecdotes that were both meaningful enough to be tasteful, yet comedic enough to be cathartic as well.
He remembered a time when they went fishing in the Florida Keys, and Sean dove down to the bottom of the water to get something. He then came back to the surface without equalizing in any way, something that can damage, even rupture an eardrum. “That was the first time that I realized that this kid might not be totally human.”
Redskin teammate Clinton Portis also managed to tastefully lighten the mood when he cracked, “… if there was anything that motivated me to play football, it was the excitement of seeing Sean hit somebody.” As a berieved crowd laughed with Portis, he also talked about the changes in Sean and how, “Sean was living for his child, living for his girl.”
Former Washington Redskin and teammate Lavar Arrington was among the most shaken. He stood at the podium, and through the tears was still able to offer, “Sean, I love you as my brother, and I love you as my friend. Today, my heart is broken. I’ll get through it, we’ll all get through it. But I know that he was one of my guardian angels, and he was there for me.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was also on hand to offer the league’s condolences, “It’s times like this that all of us struggle to find meaning in life. The NFL was proud of Sean Taylor. He loved football and football loved him back. But more importantly, it was what he was as a man and what he was becoming as a man.”
The funeral comes just a week after Taylor was shot inside his Florida home. While there was a lot of sensationalism and conjecture in the press about the details of the crime, it turned out to be just a senseless act of violence.
Florida City’s mayor Otis Wallace, also a friend of the Taylor family, addressed the manner in which some columnists and broadcasters have conducted themselves, “One of the things that I hope comes out of this tragedy is that the media get a small lesson in grace and humility. For those who took the liberty of recklessly speculating that this young man’s death was caused by the way he lived, all I can say is that they should be ashamed.”
The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Four men face charges of unpremeditated murder, armed burglary and home invasion with a firearm or another deadly weapon. Charles Wardlow (18), Jason Mitchell (19) and Venjah Hunte (20) were all transferred from Lee County to Miami-Dade County on Monday evening, likely to appear in court on Tuesday. Eric Rivera (17), will be processed at a juvenile detention center. According to police, all four suspects have prior arrests, that include drug, theft and gun charges.
Four ‘wannabe’ gangsters snuffed out the life of a special person, and a special athlete; a son, a father.
Sean Taylor’s daughter Jackie was frolicking about the stage in her red dress during the ceremony, oblivious to the magnitude of the situation thanks to the sheer innocence of youth. Unaware of the fact that she was stripped of her chance to ever know her father.
Taylor’s girlfriend Jackie sat quietly through the ceremony and chose not to speak, but rather to have her sister Caroline Garcia speak for her. Caroline spoke ‘of what she knew’ and managed some of the most touching comments of all, “You will live on in everyone’s hearts and in mine, where nobody can take you away.”
Finding it difficult to compose herself, yet inspirational in her courage to continue, Caroline also theorized that, “It’s funny how God takes the specials one too soon. Obviously he needed Sean.”
Nothing will bring Sean Taylor back; but nothing can take away the lasting memories and impressions that he has given everyone, or the impact that he made on people’s lives.
May he rest in peace. May his greatness always be celebrated – and never forgotten.
Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Mark Solway