Let's start off by making one thing clear: I believe in due process. Lawrence Taylor is innocent until proven guilty. There are no ifs, ands or buts about that.
That said, if Taylor ends up being guilty on just about any level of raping a 16-year-old girl, he not only should be thrown in prison, but out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The greats of the game, even the ones who have their own issues, shouldn't have to sit next to somebody like Taylor, a guy who has been given more chances than a millionaire in a casino.
Taylor's abuse of other people's goodwill is a running joke in the NFL. In the days leading up to the Hall of Fame vote in 1999, when the former New York Giants linebacker was inducted, he was at the center of a debate over whether off-field conduct should be considered part of the criteria.
The issue was so pervasive that then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was asked whether Taylor deserved the honor the day before the Hall vote.
"I think he should, and I say that without qualification," Tagliabue said at the time. "The Hall of Fame is about performing on the field. And there, Lawrence Taylor was one of the greatest. I think the public understands that by making a judgment of an athlete, you're not condoning, or accepting, what he did off the field."
Sadly, that kind of thinking is why the NFL under Roger Goodell, Tagliabue's successor, now has to have a personal conduct policy and is dealing with idiots like Pacman Jones and Ben Roethlisberger(notes). Tagliabue simply reinforced the notion of entitlement that gets so many talented people in trouble.
In other words, if you're good on Sunday, everything else is cool.
The problem there is that giving people more chances without having to pay a price just begets more problems at some point. In the years since Tagliabue's comments helped pave the way for Taylor's Hall nod, Taylor has been allowed to reinvent himself with the help of that approval.
From a tell-all autobiography to appearing on "Dancing With the Stars" to his series of Nutrisystem commercials where he yuks it up with Dan Marino, Taylor has taken his fame and profited from it.
Taylor isn't just the greatest linebacker (and perhaps greatest overall defensive player) to walk the face of the Earth, he's a celebrity. Football gave him that platform. Football gave him a chance for fame, wealth and admiration.
What Taylor has done with that opportunity is chew it up, spit it out and ground it in the dirt. Most of those problems were crimes against himself, such as drug use. Those kinds of problems deserve a certain amount of compassion.
Now, however, Taylor has allegedly committed a crime against a child. Maybe he was duped by some pimp. I'm not buying it. I have a 15-year-old child and I'm roughly the same age as Taylor. You can't tell me he couldn't have figured out there was something wrong with the picture.
Furthermore, you can't tell me that Taylor couldn't have found a consenting adult if he'd just looked around a little, even in suburban Suffern, N.Y., where he was staying. Or he easily could have hooked up with a prostitute who was of age. Yeah, that's illegal, but at least everybody knows the score.
Instead, Taylor reminds us of the lesson that Roethlisberger just finished teaching: Some athletes don't think twice about who or what they trample in order to get their satisfaction. They don't even really care about the game.
The really sad part is that Taylor should know that his life is about more than simply himself. He's not 23 anymore with Bill Parcells having to push him to greatness as he fights his cocaine habit.
Taylor is a man who despite all his mistakes has had people like Tagliabue, Parcells and late, great Giants owner Wellington Mara stand up for him. He has had truly great people try to help him and hasn't given a damn about it.
Greatness and fame come with a price and the higher you go, the higher the price. If you're honored as one of the greatest to ever play the game, you owe it to the game to conduct yourself with dignity.
Roethlisberger learned that lesson two weeks ago. Because he has a certain responsibility to the game, his six-game suspension was a fitting punishment even though he was never charged with a crime.
Taylor is on a higher pedestal. As a result, the fall is greater. That means more than just a fall from grace. It should mean a fall from the Hall.
- Lawrence Taylor
- Pro Football Hall of Fame