Along with numbers, targets on their backs

The Baltimore Sun

Even though NFL players are schooled early and often on the dangers of their high-profile jobs, off-field incidents have dominated headlines and Web sites the past year.

The shooting death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor this week sent another chilling reminder of vulnerability rippling through the league.

"If they can get you at your house, they can pretty much get you anywhere," Ravens cornerback Corey Ivy said yesterday.

Taylor was shot in the upper leg in his upscale suburban Miami home early Monday morning in a crime that has loose ends and no clear motivation. Police said indications are that it was the result of a random burglary but still are searching for suspects.

There are others who believe Taylor, 24, was targeted.

Targeting NFL players -- with their rich and famous lifestyles -- for criminal conduct is a growing concern in the league. That's why the league instituted life-skills seminars for all players and why it has a formal policy that prohibits carrying guns on NFL property or at NFL functions.

"What has become clear is that teams have to be more proactive in educating their players that they can be targets and that they also have an added responsibility because of their celebrity status," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations.

"It's making your athletes more aware there are people with bad intentions."

Toward that end, the Ravens conduct a series of life-skills presentations before the start of the regular season to inform players of the insidious nature of people with bad intentions. Those seminars bring police officers, lawyers, and financial and housing experts to the players. On occasion, the Ravens also will send a security guard with a player to a public event.

It's an outgrowth of the NFL security program that requires every rookie to attend a symposium before training camp and every player to attend a life-skills program during camp.

"What we counsel players on in the NFL security presentation is to make sure they recognize they're celebrities and need to be careful about who they hang with, where they go, who they trust," league spokesman Greg Aiello said. "Because they can be targeted and victimized, whether financially or physically. We've advised them to lower their profile when they're out in public."

A weapons charge sent former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson to jail, and he served an eight-game NFL suspension this year. Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones is serving a year-long suspension for aberrant behavior.

Robert Gaddy, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound bodyguard for Ravens quarterback Steve McNair, called Jones the "tip of the iceberg."

"These players nowadays, most of them need bodyguards just to keep them from doing something they have no business doing," Gaddy said from Nashville, Tenn. "A lot of them are hotheads. They think they're on top of the world. They don't understand a bullet can stop anything. Superman, he doesn't really exist."

Gaddy said McNair doesn't put himself in situations where he might be vulnerable. In fact, Gaddy said he spends most of his time in Nashville these days unless McNair summons him.

Mitch Abrams, a sports psychologist who specializes in anger management and violence prevention, commended the NFL on its cautionary programs.

"The NFL does a good job, but there's always room for improvement in exposing athletes to this," Abrams said. "They need to increasingly find creative ways to tell the players it's in their best interests [to take precautions] without turning them off."

Abrams, who has worked in the New Jersey state prison system the past eight years, went so far as to suggest "entourage training."

Some players have heeded the league's advice. Former Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary said he has always had a security system and security dogs at his residence, going back to his tenure with the Seattle Seahawks.

"I've always been aware of my surroundings," he said. "I made it a point to try to stay out of crime-ridden areas."

Ravens safety Dawan Landry said he didn't intend to take security measures, though.

"You've just got to live your life, because [Taylor] was in the privacy of his own home, and I don't think he expected that. Nobody really expected that."

Ivy said the best thing is to adopt a more cautious lifestyle, but he didn't think buying a gun or adding a security system would necessarily prevent a problem.

"You could do all that, but ... if somebody is out to get you, they most likely can get you no matter what kind of protection you have. You just really have to tone down your lifestyle," he said.

"It was definitely not his fault by any stretch of the imagination. I really don't know what you could do to combat that."

Sun reporter Edward Lee and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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