The tragic death Tuesday of Sean Taylor, Washington's Pro Bowl safety, is the latest reminder that the inner-city criminal has revoked the exemptions once allowed truly gifted and ambitious young athletes.
There was a time when promising youngsters were protected by the community, watched over by adults, sheltered by the criminal element.
The tacit agreement was simple: The kid has a chance to make it. Don't (mess) it up.
The thugs roaming Philadelphia in the 1960s allowed Joe Frazier to grow up and become heavyweight champ. Those in the Chicago projects in the 1970s delivered Isiah Thomas from childhood to NBA stardom, did the same in the 1980s for Tim Hardaway and others. Bayview-Hunter's Point gave Mike Norris a chance, just as North Oakland's drug culture respected a young tyro named Rickey Henderson.
And once they made it, well, they became heroes to the'hood. Sources of pride. Able to go back, give back and be embraced.
Sometime in the 1990s, as aresult of numerous factors, there was a change. As "crack" became the urban plague, the gangsta lifestyle was being glorified and guns were being romanticized, the credo protect your best and brightest, for they are few was destroyed.
Senseless killing and the reckless, violent pursuit of money spared no one, marking the best and brightest as attractive prey.
Stephon Marbury, a diehard New Yorker, recognized everywhere, was robbed on its streets. Sebastian Telfair, the New York prep star, got the same treatment. Paul Pierce, a young star in Boston seven years ago, was stabbed 11 times by fools who knew he was Paul Pierce.
It has happened in the Bay Area, too, from the strong-arm robbery of NBA star Gary Payton in a San Leandro parking lot in the'90s to the cold-blooded murder of De La Salle product Terrance Kelly, who had earned a scholarship to the University of Oregon, in 2003.
Kelly's killer reportedly had a most ironic reason: jealousy. It was a hate crime.
Though details behind Taylor's murder continue to emerge past misdeeds and brushes with the law leave his case open to conjecture authorities theorize he was a robbery victim.
There is no question, though, that Taylor had made it. He survived the mean streets of South Florida, became a star at the University of Miami, was drafted by Washington in the first round in 2004, signing multimillion-dollar contract. He was a product of his times, too, spending his first two NFL seasons projecting thug life, wearing'tude on both sleeves.
Not until last year, when he bought a home for his fiance and the child they were expecting, did Taylor begin showing signs of maturity. His recent personal and spiritual growth convinced those close to him that he had undergone a transformation.
To be shot in his bedroom, at age 24, with his fiancee and 18-month-old daughter nearby, is awful news for his family, friends, teammates and the black community.
Yes, it's another African-American male dead before age 25. Yes, it leaves another child to be raised without a birth father. Moreover, though, it conveys complete disrespect of life, any life.
Not that Taylor was more important than any other murder victim, but the NFL star appeared to be pointed down the road of good. To a place where he could parlay his fame into making a positive difference. He was on the verge of being influential.
And now he's as dead as Darrent Williams, the Denver Broncos cornerback shot and killed 11 months ago, when some coward shot up a limo after a party.
In the months after Williams was murdered, NBA stars Eddy Curry and Antoine Walker were victims of home-invasion robberies in Chicago.
In the months before Williams was murdered, USC point guard Ryan Francis, a passenger in the wrong car, at the wrong place and time, was shot and killed in Louisiana. This was two months after thugs entered the estate of former Raiders cornerback Phillip Buchanon, stuck a gun in his mouth, and demanded $20,000 and valuables.
Buchanon, now with Tampa Bay, told the robbers to contact his financial adviser for the cash. He even offered to call.
This is a guy who always made of a point of expressing pride in his roots. He wanted to project the flash and glitter of gangsta life. Hey, he was from the'hood, accustomed to seeing fools with guns.
The man who called himself "Show Time" in Oakland now has a new outlook. Believing he was set up by people he knows, an allegation supported by the circumstances, Buchanon devalues keepin' it real.
Unlike Taylor, Buchanon was lucky enough to survive his trauma and realize his celebrity did not keep him immune from the ills of the'hood. To the contrary, it targeted him.
So he's creating his own credo: Keep a safe distance himself from the lifestyle, from those I trusted because they were "homeboys."
Buchanon feels it is necessary, simply to increase his chances of seeing his 30th birthday. How sad is that?
Monte Poole can be reached at (510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at