Taylor coverage has racial overtones

The question didn't leave me speechless, but it certainly made me queasy.

Around 9 a.m. Tuesday, shortly after I read that Sean Taylor was dead, a Washington, D.C., radio station called and wanted to discuss what I knew about the Taylor story. Since I had lived in Miami for 15 years, the station figured I would have some perspective.

Then came the first question.

"How close is Taylor's house where he was killed to the 'hood?" the host asked.

That question is about far more than geography; it's flat-out racist. Implicit is that Taylor, who by most accounts grew up in a mostly middle-class neighborhood, was killed by someone poor, someone angry.

Someone black.

On Friday, The Miami Herald reported that three men, including two teenagers, were being questioned in Fort Myers, Fla., in connection with the murder. There was no other information about the men in the report, other than they may have inadvertently found out about Taylor from someone else.

For geography's sake, Fort Myers is about 100 miles from Taylor's house in Palmetto Bay, a suburb of Miami. It could also mean that Taylor was killed for a color more powerful in this country than black or white – green.

All of that has yet to be determined. It would be nice if the media could be patient as the police investigation unfolds.

The coverage of the tragedy has produced some other, more subtle forms of racist discussion. Columnists have written that Taylor was unable to escape his upbringing, ignoring the fact that his father is a police chief and he attended an elite prep school in South Miami.

There has been regurgitation of Taylor's run-ins with the law and his seven fines during his NFL career, trying to create a connection between his moments as an angry young man and his violent death. While Taylor's history is part of his life story, connecting it directly to his death is speculative.

Before the conversation gets too loud – the shrill anger of accusation drowning out the chance for constructive thought – the implicit and explicit is coming from both white and black voices. It's coming from the media and from the general public simultaneously.

Take the column from Jason Whitlock on FOXSports.com.

"The Black KKK claimed another victim, a high-profile professional football player with a checkered past this time," Whitlock wrote, suggesting that Taylor was killed by another black man, after adding a minimal disclaimer that he could be wrong. As of Friday morning, Miami police still had no strong sense of who killed Taylor, other than to say they believed it was a random crime.

While I like a lot of what Whitlock, a black man who also works for the Kansas City Star, has written and said in recent years, I winced when I read the beginning of his column. It's powerful, it's strong, it makes you think. But if it's wrong, it's dangerous.

Likewise, there is the opinion expressed by Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antrel Rolle, a friend of Taylor from childhood and a former teammate at the University of Miami. Rolle told The Associated Press he believes Taylor's death was a planned attack.

"This was not the first incident," Rolle said. "They've been targeting him for three years now…. He didn't really say too much, but I know he lived his life pretty much scared every day of his life when he was down in Miami because those people were targeting him. At least he's got peace now."

While Rolle clearly has a unique insight, one he should share with police, I have two words that should put perspective on what being wrong can mean: Duke lacrosse.

When that story broke, speculation and presumption were even stronger. The Duke athletes accused of rape were convicted in the court of public opinion. TV host Nancy Grace referred to the athletes as the "Duke rapists."

Ultimately, it was all wrong. The case led to the self-destruction of the prosecutor and an eroding of trust in the judicial system. All the speculation in the reports led to a further erosion of trust in the media.

Taylor's killing has the potential to be the same. Media speculation will create more blame on a group already profiled as violent and fearsome, further feeding the frenzy that divides our culture more than binding it.

Some people in the University of Miami football fraternity have cast suspicion upon Taylor's girlfriend, Jackie Garcia, who has a daughter with Taylor and had dated him since high school.

For now, however, it's best if the speculation ceases because guessing can be too damaging on too many levels.