Washington Times – Nov 28, 2007 – Tim Lemke – Hours after finding out about the death of safety Sean Taylor at the hands of an armed intruder, Gibbs was asked yesterday how he would get the team ready for a key game against the Buffalo Bills this Sunday.
“How we deal with this, I don’t know,” an emotional Gibbs said. “It’s something I don’t think anyone can be prepared for.”
Gibbs said he asked players to be at Redskin Park for practice today but wavered when asked whether he would try to treat it as a normal practice.
“We’re going one hour at a time here,” he said.
Funeral services for Taylor have not been finalized, but they likely will be early next week in Florida. Team owner Daniel Snyder said he would pay for anyone in the organization to attend, but that likely would leave the team just two days to prepare for a Thursday night game against the Chicago Bears. Snyder said he had not contacted NFL officials about the possibility of pushing the Chicago game back to the following Sunday.
Logistically, it will be a challenge. Emotionally, it’s one of the hardest things an athlete will ever deal with.
“If you play the game and there hasn’t been a chance to grieve, it’s very challenging,” said Ralph Vernacchia, director of the Center for Performance Excellence at Western Washington University, who was a consultant to the school’s basketball team in the early 1990s when a player died in midseason. “It’s a process, not a light-switch thing. Emotionally, you have to walk through the steps or else you won’t have the energy to perform.”
The Redskins held at least one team meeting yesterday and made several chaplains and other counselors available to players, as well as at least one representative from the NFL Players Association.
“I do think professional intervention is appropriate,” said John F. Murray, a clinical and sports psychologist from Palm Beach, Fla., who has worked with several NFL players. “I believe you need to approach it from the group and the individual perspective.”
Taylor’s number will appear on all Redskins helmets, and all jerseys will don a memorial patch. At Redskins Park in Ashburn, a black cloth was draped over the entrance to the main building. League-wide, teams will honor Taylor with a moment of silence in stadiums Sunday.
“Those are all very important early first steps,” said Kenneth Doka, a counselor and professor of gerontology at the College of New Rochelle’s graduate school who has written extensively on the subject of death and grief. “Obviously, this will be the elephant in the room, and you have to name that and acknowledge that. But it can’t be hokey Ã¢â‚¬â€? it has to be something that comes from [the players].”
It’s impossible to predict how players will perform Sunday, counselors said, but in the best scenarios, teams and athletes dedicate their performances to the person who died and play well.
“A day after Brett Favre’s dad died, he went on national television and had one of his best performances ever,” said Murray, recalling the 399-yard, four-touchdown performance by the Green Bay Packers quarterback in 2003. “But there are probably countless other examples where the opposite occurs.”
Last year, the Miami Hurricanes played Maryland just days after the murder of linebacker Bryan Pata. Players were credited with playing valiantly but lost 14-13.
“It’s one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to deal with,” former Hurricanes coach Larry Coker said during an interview on ESPN Radio. “In business or an industry, if a co-worker is lost, you can take a day or two or take a week off. You can’t do that in the National Football League. It will be difficult. … You don’t ever get over it, but you have to move on.”
Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.