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How I learned Sean Taylor had been shot in a deadly home invasion

How I learned Sean Taylor had been shot in a deadly home invasion

NBC Sports Bay Area’s Kelli Johnson, who covered the Redskins in 2007 for CSN Mid-Atlantic, recalls covering the tragic passing of Washington star safety Sean Taylor.

Why? It’s a question I’ve asked over and over again since Sean Taylor’s death 13 years ago. 

It still feels like a bad dream, a nightmare that left me standing in front of his home in Miami, in a daze, numb, covering the murder scene of not just a star player that I covered in the NFL, but a friend I was just getting to know. Sean should be here today. He should be watching his beautiful daughter, Jackie, grow up. He should have just wrapped up a Hall-of-Fame career.  But just as Sean was beginning to realize his greatness, both as a player and more importantly as a man, his life was tragically taken.  

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The day we learned Sean had been shot was November 26, 2007. It was after the Redskins played the Bucs. I was in the Tampa airport about to board a plane home with my crew, when I got a call from work. I don’t remember who called me. All I remember is hearing that Sean Taylor is fighting for his life in a hospital in Miami. I was told to get my bags off the plane and get down there. 

At first, I didn’t believe it. And then when we heard there were conflicting reports over whether it was the Redskins’ Sean Taylor or someone else, I immediately thought it had to be the latter. But it wasn’t. When we finally got to the hospital in Miami, the grave reality of the situation hit me and it was devastating.  It didn’t feel real.  

The rest of the day and night is all a blur. I only remember when Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Sean’s closest friends on the team, Clinton Portis and Santana Moss, showed up. And later around midnight or 1 a.m., when Sean’s dad, Pedro, came out to give us an update. Pedro, or Pete as we came to know him, sounded hopeful after Sean had moved his hand and fluttered his eyes, giving his family and doctors encouraging signs that maybe he had turned a corner.

FACEBOOK LIVE AT 5 PM: HEAR MORE ABOUT SEAN TAYLOR ON REDSKINS TALK AND FRIENDS

It was the good news we all need to finally leave and head to our hotel, with the hope that Sean was going to survive. But somewhere around 4:45 or 5:00 am that morning, after just a few hours of restless sleep, I got another call. The one I was dreading. Sean Taylor was dead. I was frozen.  

It was the beginning of the worst day of my professional career, and one of the worst days of my life.  

Sean was guarded and shy, when he arrived in Washington as the fifth overall draft pick in 2004, and his mistrust in the media only grew the following seasons, after a few off-the-field incidents, including a DUI. 

I remember him saying that he always felt like the media was trying to get him to say something that would make him look bad or get him in trouble. I tried to explain to him that being available to the media from time to time would only help him. I pushed him to do a few interviews so that fans and the world could get to know the Sean that I had gotten to know. That Sean was kind and thoughtful. He was always asking me questions, he was inquisitive. We would chat about food and family and random stuff. And when his daughter was born, man did his eyes light up when he talked about her. All of the sudden he had a purpose in life: to provide for her and be the best dad he could be.  

RELATED: WHERE WOULD TAYLOR RANK AMONG BEST SAFETIES EVER?

When I think about Sean now, I always go back to something he once said. When talking about how seriously he takes his job, he said, “it’s almost like you play a kid’s game for a king’s ransom”. And that was Sean. A big kid, who loved football and played the game with a reckless abandon and a natural talent few people in this world are blessed with. To see him on the football field in his pads was a sight that blew you away. He looked like a linebacker, yet he was a safety, who could fly from sideline to sideline and close in on a pass in the blink of an eye.

He was so good, so explosive. He could make a huge mistake in coverage and still recover to break up a play.  

I’ll never forget his two-interception day of Brett Favre at Lambeau Field, that gave Favre the NFL record in interceptions. Sean’s second pick was just a normal play for him, but to others it was a jaw-dropping display of his incredible athletic prowess and instincts, with Sean coming out of nowhere to snag the ball down the sideline. It was Hall-of-Fame type talent. His bust would’ve ended up in Canton, there’s no doubt in my mind.

The last sit-down interview I did with Sean before his death happened during training camp of that 2007 season. He had on an army green hat and spoke very softly, but he was relaxed, almost unguarded. And when he flashed that beautiful, shy smile, the one he reserved for only a small few, I thought, this is the Sean I want everyone to see and know.  The Sean the world was unjustly robbed of at just 24 years old. Why? He should still be here.

Listen to the full episode of Sports Uncovered's Sean Taylor: The NFL Superstar We Didn't Get to Know, click here.

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Brian Mitchell says an open-minded convo is needed on Redskins' name: 'In this life, things change'

Brian Mitchell says an open-minded convo is needed on Redskins' name: 'In this life, things change'

On Wednesday, it was reported that investment firms and shareholders worth a collective $620 billion have asked Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to terminate their business relationships with the Washington Redskins unless the team agrees to change its name.

The news came in the midst of an increase in pushback toward the franchise as demand for racial justice swells across the country. Early Thursday, former Redskins running back and current NBC Sports Washington analyst Brian Mitchell spoke with Richard Graves of Sky Sports News about the issue. Mitchell stated that he believes change is going to come.

"Eventually, the way things seem to be rolling now, it's inevitable," Mitchell said.

Since his statements, the issue has only escalated. FedEx, which holds the naming rights to the Redskins stadium, released a statement saying “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name." Others around the sports world have also commented on the issue, and Nike has removed all Redskins merchandise from its site.

RELATED ARTICLE: NOW REDSKINS WAIT TO SEE IF NIKE, PEPSI WILL FOLLOW FEDEX'S LEAD

Amid the ever-growing movement, recent actions have only confirmed Mitchell's beliefs, rather than surprised him.

The main reason he believes this is the normal course is due to the major brands that are now involved. To Mitchell, wealth has become a determining factor in what changes get made in America.

“Nothing happens in our country unless someone’s money is affected," Mitchell told NBC Sports Washington. "When you see that start to happen, then you see things start to happen. I think immediately when I started hearing that thing I felt that somebody was going to say something.”

However, FedEx being the first to speak out was something Mitchell didn't fully expect to see so quickly. Not only because the company sponsors the Redskins stadium, and holds a deal with them through 2025, but because FedEx President and CEO Frederick Smith owns a minority stake in the Redskins. 

That decision by a brand so intertwined with the team for years is what has Mitchell thinking things are only beginning.

“I think when you see things like that, you have to believe that something is moving now in the direction that we think it would be moving," Mitchell said. “If they’re starting to stay stuff, if they felt the pressure to say something, I have to believe that somebody else will feel the pressure as well.”

While companies speaking out is a start, others with power will ultimately control the decision. Namely, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who has been outspoken in the past that the name is not something that is going to be changed, pointing to the long history of the franchise. Mitchell understands that point of view, but also feels that the name isn't what should represent the success.

He brings up a question he's asked time and time again surrounding the debate over the name.

“Do you cheer for the name or for the overall franchise, or do you cheer for players, cheer for the pride and all that type of things?" Mitchell said.

“Last time I saw people buying jerseys, I saw people buying jerseys with people's last names on the back of the jersey," Mitchell said. "Normally, what's on the back of the jersey is what people represent.”

In the end, that's what Mitchell believes it comes down to. Changing the name is not about tarnishing the legacy of the players and teams that have passed through Washington, but rather showing acceptance to those who are offended by the term.

Like in the past, life changes. As people grow and learn, holding on to the way things were in the past isn't what Mitchell believes to be right.

“Everybody wasn’t offended. But guess what? Those words left. You stopped using those words," Mitchell said “If something is offensive, we have to get to the point where we think of that all the same. In this life, things change, whether we want it or not sometimes. But I’ve always been told by my coaches when I played sports, you have to adjust. I think the same thing has to happen in life.” 

So, how exactly will this change come about? For Mitchell, who has dealt with this discussion since he joined the team in 1990, the same formula he preached back then needs to be enacted now. People need to come together with an open mind and a willingness to communicate, something he's seen the country struggle with constantly.

“I said then that what needs to happen is you need to have adults to sit down, and have a conversation. An educated, mature conversation, and then come up with a decision," Mitchell said. “You don’t go into the decision with a closed mind. You don’t go into a conversation with a closed mind. If you go into it with an open mind and just listen.”

No matter what comes in the future, Mitchell has seen enough to know the current state won't remain the same. As he said earlier in the day, there's no avoiding what is to come.

“It seems to be inevitable that something is going to happen," Mitchell said. 

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Nike removes Redskins name, apparel from its website

Nike removes Redskins name, apparel from its website

Nike was one of three companies to reportedly have received a letter recently from investors asking that it sever ties with the Washington Redskins unless the team changes its name.

Another of those companies, FedEx, responded Thursday by formally requesting that the team change its name. Nike and the third company, PepsiCo, have yet to respond, but there is a major omission from the Nike website that maybe hints at what's to come.

RELATED ARTICLE: NOW REDSKINS WAIT TO SEE IF NIKE, PEPSI WILL FOLLOW FEDEX'S LEAD

Nike, the NFL's official gameday uniform supplier, is no longer allowing customers to purchase Washington apparel from its website. The Nike.com NFL page has every team listed on the left sidebar except Washington. Furthermore, its shopping filters also omit Washington and its search function pulls up other teams but no results for Washington.

It's unclear when Nike made this change to its website. AdWeek reported Wednesday that investment firms and shareholders worth a collective $620 billion sent letters to Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo last Friday.

In its request on Thursday, FedEx said, “We have communicated to the team in Washington our request that they change the team name.“

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