Three days before it was set to play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, the Washington Football Team announced via Twitter it would retire the No. 21 jersey of former fan-favorite and Pro Bowl free safety Sean Taylor, who was murdered in his home in 2007 during his fourth year in the NFL at 24 years old.
Last year, 15 former Washington employees made claims of sexual harasment while working with the team, which prompted investigation into the team. Last week, the New York Times published a string of leaked racist, misogynistic and homophobic emails from former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden, some of which former Washington team president Bruce Allen received. Gruden resigned from the Raiders last week in response to the leak, and Allen was fired by Washington in 2019.
Already angered fans speculated Washington’s owner Dan Snyder tried to use Taylor’s celebration as a way to distract from the controversy surrounding the team. If that claim was true it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest, and I think giving fans three days' notice is pretty telling this wasn’t something that was in the works for very long.
Because of its desperation for good press, the team didn’t give many fans enough notice to make arrangements for Taylor's jersey retirement. It was a nice ceremony, but you can’t help but notice all the empty seats watching it back. FedExField, Wasington’s home stadium, was at 63% capacity Sunday.
Washington’s president Jason Wright admitted the timing of the announcement was poor in a public apology, saying the team “screwed up.”
“We thought that saving the news for a game week reveal was the best way to focus the message on Sean and his legacy,” Wright said in the apology. “We didn't realize that so many of you wanted to make a trip to FedExField to be present for this moment — a true lack of understanding of what you, the lifeblood of this franchise, needed to mourn our collective loss and celebrate Sean's legacy.”
Personally, I think Wright is full of something my editors probably wouldn’t let me publish. The idea that it’s surprising to the team’s president that fans would want to see a memorial to one of the most beloved figures in franchise history demonstrates one of two things: a complete lack of understanding of Taylor’s affect on the team or an utter disregard for it. My guess is the latter.
To make matters worse, Jackson Mahomes, the brother of star Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, caught heat as well for filming TikTok dances and taking photos on the No. 21 that was painted on the field to honor Taylor.
Mahomes, who has amassed a following of nearly one million followers on TikTok, apologized on Twitter following backlash, claiming he was directed to stand in the area where Taylor’s number was painted.
In the spirit of ripping the Washington Football Team, it wouldn’t surprise me if an ill-advised Mahomes was directed into the area by team staff. Washington really would be hitting the nail on the head allowing people to dance on Taylor’s number considering they are dancing on his grave in an attempt to lighten the blow caused by its recent controversy.
I feel for Mahomes. In reality, the 21 year old probably didn’t mean any harm and was oblivious to what the number represented. While Mahomes is getting much of the backlash, it was the responsibility of the team to make sure Taylor was honored and the sole focus of attention, which they failed.
I do think Mahomes should have been more aware of what was going on, but it’s sad to see he’s become the target of homophobic attacks on social media likely as a result of Washington’s poor direction.
Snyder, along with the rest of Washington’s staff involved in putting the celebration together, owe Taylor’s family an apology. It’s a shame that his celebration lacked the attention and respect it deserved because of the recent controversy surrounding the team and its poor planning.