Why the Sean Taylor issue is important to SLAM

By Vincent Thomas

You may wonder why something on Sean Taylor’s recent death is appearing on the SLAM website; but if you haven’t noticed, SLAM is as much a part and product of urban culture as it is a part and product of the game of basketball. When I was a young teen, I didn’t read SLAM solely to read about basketball, I read SLAM because it spoke to me — and it spoke to me because it was coming from a place that I identified with. This Sean Taylor tragedy concerns SLAM and our readers because the problem is so pervasive and systemic and structural. It isn’t a football issue. It isn’t even athletic issue. It’s an American issue.

Athletes are being targeted — I fully believe that. This makes Sean Taylor’s death an American problem, specifically when you recognize that Antoine Walker, Andre Blatche, Eddy Curry and others were targets of similar criminal behavior. Even Paul Pierce’s stabbing incident can easily be cast in similar light.

Up to this point, we’ve heard a lot of extreme arguments, usually spouting out of the mouth of some middle-age judges. This irritates me. However, if I could add something from the perspective of a young black male: I think it’d be smart to cautiously and responsibly insert hip hop into this discussion. I’m not some old white geezer (Bill O’Reilly) or angry old black you know (Jason Whitlock) flippantly blaming a culture that they know as no more than a stereotype. I’m a hip hopper. And as a dude that grew up on hip hop and identifies with it’s purveyors and loves the music and culture, I’m also aware of many of its latent ramifications.

Hip hop is a major part of the systemic and structural reasons that this epidemic is upon us, because it both directly and indirectly promotes covetousness through materialistic oneupmanship. It began as a boastful musical artform. But in addition to the boasts and braggadocio was competition. It is the one music that so closely mirrors sports.

A couple of years after hip hop hit the scene, crack was introduced to the urban centers. This is important because, for the first time, you saw a bunch of young blacks, in the hood, making fast money and big money. Enough cash to buy gaudy jewels, expensive cars, etc. Gettin’ money was possible for anyone.

Fast forward to today — the crack rush has died down. Yet, while drug dudes scrap for crumbs, hip hop is still thriving and more importantly, the atmosphere of materialism is just as acute and maybe more deviant than before. Which brings us to another problematic layer, being that that the sentiment of hip hop is to degrade men that can’t afford platinum, ice, Escalades, etc. And another strong sentiment that sprung from the crack game is the By Any Means Necessary mantra. That means: I want all the fly things and I will sell crack to my aunt to get it. I will also rob you of yours to get it.

On more than one ocassion, I’ve been out with some associates and there’d be a hoodlum in the midst who will look at some dude rockin’ a nice chain and say something like, “Man, I should go snatch that Jesus-piece right of his neck.” And he’d mean it. There’s also a reason why an urban-hip-hop-cliche before you enter a club is to “tuck your chain.” If your’re a white dude, stepping into Les Deux with a Rolex on your wrist, you don’t have to worry about these kinda things. But don’t step into some spot on Crenshaw rockin’ platinum if you don’t want problems, because you’ll be targeted.

That’s the culture. You have a bunch of young men being told — through music and American capitalist thought — that they are squares without material things; these same black men don’t have “comfortable means” to getting it; and these same men have not developed the moral code to keep them from coveting and reacting on jealous impulse.

Sean Taylor was not a thug. I know thugs when I see them. They are my cousins in federal prison. They are the dudes that used to stalk my street in East Buffalo with fully brandished AK-47s or the other dudes stomping a kid for a$$ betting at the corner dice game. Sean Taylor is a football player. His death is not a “live by the sword, die by the sword” case of karmic justice. Sean Taylor is a rich athlete that grew up coveting the same trappings that many young black males do; and his profession afforded him the means to go get it. Same for Eddy Curry. Some criminals chose to go take it. When you turn on HBO and see Pretty Boy Floyd in his “24/7” episodes carrying around wads of cash and price-quoting how much his jewels cost, one wonders when some thug will build the gumption to challenge Floyd’s security detail and make off with some of his spoils.

This is not something to be solved by simply scolding athletes into changing their appearance or lifestyle; or judging hip hop artists into changing their lyrics. This is a cultural and moral epidemic and an American problem, something that needs nationwide attention. It shouldn’t take someone running up on Brett Favre’s ranch and robbing him and his family at gunpoint before brains and serious critical thought are mobilized.