Until November 26th, their only link was a shared name and sport of choice. Sadly, though, Taylor Bradford of the Memphis Tigers and Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins will now forever be linked for having been shot and killed during the 2007 football season. Which is actually a troubling connection, in my eyes. Why do murder victims need to be elite athletes for us to pay attention to gun violence in this country? And if the connection is going to be made, what might the sports world do to help the problem?
Here's a radical idea. (If young men being shot and killed before their 30th birthday doesn't merit a few radical thoughts, I'm not sure what does.) Instead of a league (or college conference) "mourning" with a victim's family and fans by dutifully playing the next scheduled games -- the show must go on, we're told -- why not blackout the games league wide for a day, and capture the attention of a nation all too willing to find the next news item after another young person has been killed by gunfire?
This will never happen, of course. Too much money to lose. (And don't doubt for an instant the variable team owners and athletic directors consider first when making this kind of decision.) But just consider the impact it might have, if thousands -- millions? -- of sports fans were forced to take pause and consider the epidemic of gun violence in our country. To weigh the importance of the Big Game, relative to a human life. To not simply see another athlete fill the role of the fallen victim, with a black patch on his uniform to pay "tribute."
The real tribute men like Taylor Bradford and Sean Taylor deserve is more attention given to the plague gun violence has become. If their higher profiles might help remove a few guns from the hands of people with no business carrying them, they'd have a bigger win than any they ever experienced on the gridiron.
Junior safety Brandon Patterson has been an integral part of the 2007 Memphis Tiger football team, now headed for the New Orleans Bowl on December 21st. Patterson is second only to Jake Kasser in tackles and has three interceptions to his credit. But last week he became a different kind of star. Patterson was named a second-team Academic All-America by ESPN the Magazine. According to U of M athletic media-relations director Jennifer Rodrigues, Patterson is the first Tiger to earn such an honor in 15 years. A native of Germantown, Patterson holds a 3.7 GPA and is working toward a master's degree in business administration. He's worthy of applause.
Those in favor of a playoff system for the highest level of college football are going to have a field day over the next month. When both the number-one (Missouri) and number-two (West Virginia) teams in the country lost last Saturday, the floodgates opened for at least eight teams that could claim as much right to a "national-championship game" berth as the other seven. The only undefeated team in the country -- Hawaii -- is ranked 10th by the AP poll, not even among the eight teams I see as worthy of a shot (though not what amounts to a two-round bye in a playoff system) at the national championship. LSU and Ohio State will face each other for the BCS title. But convince me they've had better seasons than Oklahoma (the Big 12 champ and twice conquerors of Missouri), Georgia (10-2, hottest team in the SEC, including the Bayou Bengals), Kansas (one loss, compared with LSU's two), Southern Cal (10-2, Pac 10 champs), Missouri (two losses to Oklahoma are no worse a blemish than LSU's one loss to Kentucky), or West Virginia (their loss to Pitt was the biggest fluke in a season of flukes).
All we need to fix this mess is a three-week playoff, with the eight teams above playing quarterfinals and semifinals at traditional bowl sites, then the BCS championship game for a winner-take-all. Here's hoping the Rainbow Warriors put a whuppin' on Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and LSU beats Ohio State. Tell an undefeated team another club is champion with two losses, because I couldn't.