Killings made bad year worse

The Baltimore Sun

Nobody's glasses are rose-colored enough to make 2007 look like anything but a horrific year in sports. It would be tough, in fact, to find a year in anybody's memory that was worse than this one.

Apologies to fans of the Red Sox, the Spurs, the Colts, Florida, Appalachian State, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. If only those successes could blot out the failures - not just on the field, but in basic integrity and decency. This year goes into history as one of dishonesty, deceit and despair.

And death.

The year-end recaps started rolling out last week, and it's a sad indication of how rotten 2007 was that two active players, both a mere 24 years old, in America's most popular professional sports league, were brutally murdered, and they barely get a mention among the year's top stories.

Sure, Barry Bonds deserves his recognition as a dominant story line. As does Michael Vick. And Tim Donaghy. And Bill Belichick. And Don Imus. And the Duke lacrosse team. And Marion Jones. And "Pacman" Jones. And Tank Johnson. And George Mitchell and the 90-odd names he named.

Those tales helped suck a lot of the joy out of being a sports fan. They helped make the games ugly. They caused pain, rubbed salt in open wounds, and convinced a cynical public that sports might very well reflect far more of the worst of our nature than of our best.

But unless things go really bad the next couple of days, they all will wake up on New Year's Day 2008. Not the case for Darrent Williams and Sean Taylor.

This year began, literally, with the demise of Williams, victim of a drive-by shooting as he sat in a limo outside of a New Year's Eve party in Denver. It ends with four very young men jailed in South Florida, charged with shooting Taylor to death in his bedroom in the middle of the night.

Those incidents should be seared into the consciousness of everybody who claims to care about sports and the people who play them. Those things just don't happen in our games, the way scandal and cheating and law-breaking and false accusations and plausible denials and nasty, sexist, racist insults routinely do. As riveting and polarizing as the deeds of Bonds, Vick and the rest have been, we've seen it before.

We've also seen what happened to Williams and Taylor before; as it was pointed out in the weeks after their slayings, young black men are the perpetrators and victims in epidemic proportions all over this country. Just check out that little box most every day on the front of the Maryland section of The Sun.

The problem is, the other controversies still get a rise out of us, get us blabbing at each other for hours on end, stirring and re-stirring the pot.

With Williams and Taylor, the spark glowed bright for a very short time. Then it cooled. It stayed lit only in the cities they played for - Williams in Denver, Taylor in Washington - and grew up in, Fort Worth and Miami, respectively.

While it still glowed nationally, it illuminated too much of what festers deep within us. In Taylor's case, from the lowliest message-board poster to some of the most decorated journalists in this country, the theory spread like a virus that Taylor had this violent end coming to him, that he had brought it on himself.

When facts almost immediately proved the theory wrong, the talk quieted - or was driven underground. No question it still lives in the dark squalor of many hearts.

At least the story of Williams and Taylor still lives there. Everywhere else, it's already been shrugged off, by a public jaded into indifference about another dead young black man, even one who plays their favorite sport.

Pit bulls lose their lives at the uncaring hands of a rich, spoiled jock, and people stomp their feet, wave their arms, strain their voices. Two humans, members of an increasingly lost generation, are taken from the world by others of that generation, and after a while, people wonder only if their teams can make the playoffs without them.

Eventually, the bloody deaths of Darrent Williams and Sean Taylor become agate type in a year-end list, while a guy accused of breaking a home run record with lab-made muscles makes the headlines.

That's why 2007 is the worst year ever in sports. God help us all if we ever have a worse one.

Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

David Steele -- Points after

Maybe it's a function of my getting older, but few things in sports are more satisfying than an athlete leaving the game on his terms. So if Jonathan Ogden decides it's time to walk away, no one ought to tell him he owes another season, another game, another snap to anybody.

Now that they've caved on last night's Patriots-Giants game, the NFL finds that it can't actually get everything it wants without being challenged. Can't blame it for thinking it can, though.

West Virginia is pretty full of itself with this lawsuit against former coach Rich Rodriguez (now Michigan's coach). Imagine that: Institutions of higher learning thinking they can hold football coaches to their commitments. The nerve.

So if the Maryland men's basketball team keeps chugging along at this clip, can it get a bowl bid, too?

Who is investigating steroids in baseball. What is investigating the investigation. I Don't Know is investigating the guy who's investigating the investigation. And I Don't Care. No, he's calling for congressional hearings.

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