I remember a time during senior year of high school when a kid on the Damascus High School hockey team called me a name that isn’t fit to print. It was normal trash talk, but it hurt. I thought that would be the worst criticism I would ever endure in my life.
I was wrong.
In just my fourth column for the News (“The ‘U’ should be partly to blame for Taylor’s death,” 11/29), I managed to start a firestorm that led nearly 30 people from all around the country to comment on my opinion. I welcomed both those who agreed and disagreed with me and was glad that I could provoke intellectual discussion. And I understood why my opinion sparked anger in some.
Then the discussion turned ugly. People started criticizing the author, some “janitor at Yale,” “cocky little wannabe” “preppy boy” named Collin Gutman whom they would likely never meet but who wrote a controversial column with which they disagreed.
If you know me, you know that my hoodie-sweatshirt-and-old-T-shirt style is about as far from preppy as one could dress. I’m just another writer and person — not some type of super jerk from the depths.
I knew I had exposed myself to criticism and had to prepare for what others said, but that proved easier said than done. I read every nasty comment posted on the article. I saw every name people called me. And I took it like a human being, not a computer. Your friendly sports columnist has a face and a personality outside of the newspaper.
There was a regrettable reality to the column — everybody associated with it, including those who responded, lost sight of the true issue. I was angry at the death of my favorite NFL player (yeah, I love the Redskins and Sean Taylor and was traumatized by the loss). Nobody deserves what happened to him, least of all someone who was, at heart, a good person trying to improve his life, as I said in the column. Those who criticized me were probably similarly upset. In our collective anger, the emotional commenters and I forgot what truly mattered: Sean Taylor the father and friend is dead.
Sean Taylor the icon who brings Washington fans together across lines of class and race is gone. Sean Taylor the human being cannot contribute to the world anymore.
I still think what I wrote is correct: Many factors contributed to Taylor’s death and, given the information available at the time, my conclusions are valid. But maybe I should have waited until now to write the column — not to allow more facts to come out or to change my opinion, but to dedicate more time to the memory of a person. Regardless of the events surrounding his murder and whatever factors may have led to it — and regardless of whether or not you agree that certain people bear some responsibility for it — Sean Taylor was a person and deserves to be remembered as such before society moves to judge those affiliated with him or to blame those who may have contributed to his death.
Looking forward, I don’t expect to change. I am only one voice in the sports community. I do research to back my opinion, then write it. Whether or not it’s something everyone can agree on, my column will contain my unfiltered opinion. My only regret is that I held the misconception that people care more about what you say than how you say it.
I still believe what I said to end my last column — that two athletes have been murdered in the past year, and there needs to be fundamental change at all levels of football in order to protect the players. I voiced my opinion on how to promote this necessary change. Feel free to formulate your own.
Collin Gutman is a sophomore in Pierson College.