Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called “the best sports biography of the year.”
It is tempting to think of Lawrence Taylor as Ben Roethlisberger writ large, to wag your finger and proclaim this latest arrest as the natural consequence of entitlement and risk.
But a life lived so badly doesn’t qualify as a morality tale. In fact, there’s nothing moral at all about Lawrence Taylor.
Football’s greatest defensive player was unlike any other athlete. With unmatched ferocity and talent, he didn’t have to train. He didn’t have to lift. He could snort and smoke and drink and whore about, and still lead the league in sacks. And he always seemed quite proud of it.
Now, 29 years after he was drafted — an occasion he recently recounted for having downed “41 Coors Lights” — Taylor remains unlike any athlete I’ve ever encountered. For all he was given, most apparent now is what he lacks.
Consider him with his contemporaries: a trio of gifted but perennially-recovering cokeheads who became famous in New York in the Eighties. Darryl Strawberry, God bless him, had some. Dwight Gooden could fake it. But Lawrence Taylor had none at all. I’m talking about shame. I don’t even think Lawrence Taylor has the capacity for it. I’ve never seen a guy embrace his inner dirt bag quite like LT.
According to police, this latest arrest involves a pimp and a teenage prostitute who was allegedly delivered to LT with an already blackened eye. He was taken into custody early Thursday in room 160 at the Holiday Inn in Suffern, N.Y.
“As with every celebrity, Mr. Taylor is a target,” said his attorney, Arthur Aidala, who categorically denied his client had sex with the 16-year-old.
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Now I understand that Taylor is entitled to the presumption of innocence — but only in a courtroom. His life as a man is out there to be judged. He failed at least two NFL drug tests, though who knows how many he would’ve flunked if he hadn’t availed himself of various teammates’ urine samples. He was arrested on drug charges in 1996, ’97 and ’98, all resulting in conviction or court-mandated rehab. In 2000, he got five years probation for tax evasion. Also, as his lawyer described him as a “loving family man,” I’m obliged to mention that he was once arrested for failure to pay child support.
Also worth mentioning: This Holiday Inn is about six miles from a notorious neighborhood called The Hill in Spring Valley, N.Y., where, as mere coincidence would have it, the opening scene of Taylor’s second autobiography takes place.
“LT: Over the Edge” was a huge bestseller. But the protagonist recalls his misadventures with too much glee for anyone’s comfort.
It begins with — what else? — Taylor copping drugs in the mid-Nineties. But it sounds like a Seventies blaxpoitation picture. After Taylor makes the buy, a guy with a gun in the passenger seat of LT’s Cadillac rips him off for his Rolex and his pinkie ring. In short order, the hero-drug-addict-linebacker turns on his assailant and starts “pounding him in the face with my fists.”
Finally, this little set-piece scene ends with — what else? — LT hitting the gas and thinking to “grab that punk ass by the neck and shove him out of the car.
“And then I drove home and smoked their crack.”
Talk about a happy ending! Surprised he didn’t celebrate with a sack dance.
Then again, it was a long time ago. “A period in my life,” he recalled, “when the only people in my life were dealers, addicts, and hookers.”
My, how things have changed. A decade into the new millennium, he finds himself six miles down the road.
This is your life, Lawrence Taylor.