Friday, November 30, 2007

Speaking ill of the dead

A reader pointed me to this online column by Washington Post sportswriter Leonard Shapiro. Title: “Taylor’s Death Is Tragic but Not Surprising.”

As a Redskins fan, I was particularly stunned by this week’s shooting death of Pro-Bowler Sean Taylor. Then stunned again to see Mr. Shapiro write:

“[C]ould anyone honestly say they never saw this coming? You’d have to be blind not to consider Taylor’s checkered past.”

Ummm... saw this coming??

Sean Taylor wasn’t shot in a crack house.

Sean Taylor wasn’t shot on a street corner in Overtown.

He wasn’t shot in a nightclub, surrounded by his “posse.”

Sean Taylor was shot in his suburban Miami home while defending that home – and the lives of his fiancée and infant daughter – against armed intruders.

Taylor was 24 years old.

The Miami Herald reports today that three young men – two in their teens – have been detained in the case. Evidently they targeted Sean Taylor’s house to burglarize because of Taylor’s wealth.

And yet, early Tuesday afternoon, within hours of the man’s death – and with no indication that Taylor had done anything to bring about this misfortune – Len Shapiro felt compelled to write:

“At the moment, it is far too soon to draw any conclusions as to how or why this tragedy occurred... why another athlete, Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, and now Sean Taylor becomes headline news for all the wrong reasons.”

The fuck...? What does Michael Vick have to do with this?

And what does Sean Taylor’s “reputation as a moody, enigmatic athlete” have to do with his being targeted for a burglary?

“Clearly,” Shapiro wrote, “he seemed to embrace the thug image on and off the field...”

The fuck...? I say again, Shapiro wrote this while the man’s corpse was still warm.

Readers at have been outraged. Here are some of their comments:

“[I]t is incredibly insensitive and downright malicious to defame a decent human being only hours after his death. I am horrified. What was the writer thinking when writing this? What was the editor thinking when reading this?”

“Lenny. You are an idiot plain and simple.”

“I’ve read this thing three times now just to make sure I wasn’t be overly emotional. It’s easily the lowest this paper has sunk since Janet Cooke. Shapiro’s name belongs in the same sentence as hers and other disgraced journalists.”


I fully expect the Washington Post’s ombudsman to address this embarrassment come Sunday.

UPDATE (12/01/07): Well, I was right. The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, has weighed in on Len Shapiro.

Her column will appear in tomorrow’s newspaper, but it’s on the Web right now... after “huge howls from hundreds of Redskins fans upset by the initial Post online commentary,” she writes. “Hearing criticism of Taylor as he was fighting for his life and immediately after he died struck readers as insensitive.”

No shit, Shirley?

Ms. Howell talked to Shapiro, who told her: “In retrospect, I would have worded it a bit differently, softened it a little bit. I’m not a callous or uncaring person. Maybe I didn’t say it very elegantly. I feel very badly if people interpreted [the column as an attack].”

She also talked to Mike Wilbon, who had shit-talked Sean Taylor in an online chat the day before he died... and was bashed for it by some readers. Wilbon stuck up for Shapiro, telling Howell that Shapiro got attacked more than him because Shapiro is white.

Black readers, according to Wilbon, “don't want a white person to lead that discussion in Washington.”

Oh bull shit. Shapiro got attacked because he fucked up.

And Deborah Howell, when she arrives at her bottom line, lets everybody off easy:

“The issue was timing. As unfeeling as it sounds, it is just not in the nature of the news business for critical comment to be withheld until the body is in the ground. But in this case, it would not have hurt good journalism to have backed off on harsh commentary until the next day. That would have let the news sink in for readers.”

Mmm-kay. A lesson learned, I guess. It wouldn’t have “hurt good journalism” to wait a day before lumping Sean Taylor in with Michael Vick and Pacman Jones. Got it.


Marcus said...

I agree with you.

Very sad situation.

bill said...

Michael Wilbon had this to say:

McLean, Va.: Will your opinion of Taylor change if this does not turn out to be a random incident (e.g. home invasion)?

Michael Wilbon: No ... people's opinions are shaped by the way they've grown up, the way they see the world, what they know about the world the person in question grew up in, etc. Sean Taylor isn't the only guy I know who fits his general profile. I've known guys like Taylor all my life, grew up with some. They still have shades of gray and shouldn't be painted in black and white...I know how I feel about Taylor, and this latest news isn't surprising in the least, not to me. Whether this incident is or isn't random, Taylor grew up in a violent world, embraced it, claimed it, loved to run in it and refused to divorce himself from it. He ain't the first and won't be the last. We have no idea what happened, or if what we know now will be revised later. It's sad, yes, but hardly surprising.

SJ said...

Somebody submitted Wilbon's editorial to the website, and I decided to go over the comments on there (keep in mind 95% of digg users are probably white, pasty nerds). I was a bit appalled by the comments...everyone seemed to be applauding Wilbon, and at the same time saying that blacks are too much into "thug culture" and they need to do something about it. What was most offensive was the fact that Wilbon and others have no idea under what circumstances Taylor died, yet they still attribute it to him being a "thug".

Anonymous said...

Ombudsman? Yeah. Good luck with that.

(Bloogle insists I post anon now.)

Undercover Black Man said...

Bill: I make a big distinction between comments made in an online chat (Wilbon's) and an authored column under a byline (Shapiro's), which is supposed to pass editorial muster, and which is supposed to be the result of cogent forethought.

Also, Wilbon's comments were made before Taylor died. And also, commenters at are giving Wilbon a raft of shit as well.

I say, especially after Taylor died, a higher degree of dignity and taste is called for.

Heather Johnston said...

Guns, guns, and more guns. Same s**t, different day. This is nothing new, only more tragic as it is yet another young, gifted and Black life lost.

Check out this video from YouTube, it's a 1977 eloquent protest of guns from Richard Pryor.

Thanks UCB, I totally dig your work.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thank you, Heather.

Dan Coyle said...

You know, I read a lot of Dave Zirin, and when I bring him up people tell me he's too obsessed with racism in sports commentators. I'm most grateful for Leonard Shapiro for backing Zirin's asserstions up.

bjdouble said...

WaPo needs to be less bland and colorless, not more, so Shapiro is fine even if he's offensive. Shapiro made one good point: what was he doing with a machete? Taylor knew his house was being targeted and he went down to Florida to stay with his wife and protect her with a . . . machete?
That is bizarre.

Thembi said...

Can someone please explain this "checkered past" to me? I heard his mother on the radio upset because he has been portrayed as someone who had just 'turned his life around' when his daughter was born, but according to her his past was just fine.

bumpster said...

Shapiro's BS is no different than the stains the local freepers leave in the forums of my local cageliner.

memomachine said...


News media ombudsmen are hired specifically to find excuses to exonerate journalists of that media company. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now if every member of the Redskins franchise were to tell the WP to go f**k themselves and that they'll never get another interview unless and until Shapiro is fired. Now that'll get things done and is, IMO, the only acceptable result.

Nothing I read about his death deserves the disrespect that was heaped upon him.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I don't think firing is called for. But what ever happened to the concept of a good old fashioned sincere apology when you fuck up?

Comb & Razor said...

i'm just glad that people spoke up about this craziness... it seems that more and more, whenever some misfortune falls upon anybody black, the tacit (or not so tacit) consensus in the media is that they somehow brought it upon itself.

i don't really check the sports media too much, but sportswriters seem to be the very worst offenders... sports journalism as a whole seems very much like American Renaissance or something these days.

it's fucking depressing.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ C&R, part of me wonders whether there's a bit of envy from the sportswriting fraternity as so many of these young athletes become ridiculously rich as soon as they turn pro.

Lynn said...

Right. A black man cannot be a victim. If a black man is victimized, it must mean tht he was a thug.

Shapiro is a racist jerk and I resent his implications and lies.

And I agree with those who said that the Washington Post has sunken to a new low level. That was classless journalism if you want to call it journalism.

To me it was more like gossip and slander.


Undercover Black Man said...

^ And even when he's called on it, the guy doesn't get it. Oh well...