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Taylor learns salvation and salivation don’t mix.
Sean Taylor’s been accused of all sorts of venial sins since the Redskins drafted him two years ago. He left rookie advisory camp without permission and was fined. He was pulled over by Fairfax cops for erratic driving and refused to take a sobriety test. Florida lawmen claim he pulled a handgun during a summertime beef over ATVs. He wouldn’t return Joe Gibbs’ phone calls.
But the public’s wrath will now rain down on Taylor like never before, all for what he did in the third quarter of Saturday’s win over Tampa Bay. He spit on another human being.
Oh, Taylor reportedly told teammates and coaches after the game that he didn’t spit on the Buccaneers’ Michael Pittman. Just like he told everybody he didn’t spit on the Bengals’ T.J. Houshmandzadeh last season after a similar accusation was leveled. But the league quickly pooh-poohed Taylor’s latest locker-room denial. In a reprimand sent to Taylor on Monday, Gene Washington, the NFL’s director of football operations, explained that the Skins star was being fined $17,000 for violating Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1 of the league’s rule book, a passage that defines “unsportsmanlike conduct.”
“Specifically, you spit in the face of your opponent,” wrote Washington.
Even before the league handed down its verdict, Taylor’s projectile had diluted a lot of local victory celebrations.
“I was watching the game with my 4-year-old son,” says Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah, a downtown house of worship also known as the National Synagogue. “When that happened, my son was saying, ‘Daddy, what’s going on?’ And we were just embarrassed. I’m a Redskins fan, and I know it’s better for the team if Sean Taylor plays, but that crossed a line. This goes way beyond the bounds of accepted behavior. I get queasy just talking about it. You can understand if they get into a shoving match or a fight on the field. But spitting?”
Every few years, some goon’s gob will remind us that there aren’t many acts on the field of play more reviled than spitting on an opponent or official. In his 17 years in the NFL, Bill Romanowski carved out a niche as perhaps the most detestable football player of his era. Among the heinousness on the supplement-swilling linebacker’s CV was his inflicting career-ending brain damage on Oakland Raiders teammate Marcus Williams in a fight during a 2003 practice. But Romanowski is worst remembered for doing something that caused no lasting physical harm: He launched a loogie at 49ers wideout J.J. Stokes during a Monday Night Football telecast.
Roberto Alomar, despite power numbers that dwarf those of most second basemen of his generation, won’t ever make the Hall of Fame because of his 1996 dousing of umpire John Hirschbeck.
Neither Stokes nor Hirschbeck suffered any physical injury from their watery assaults, and in the decades since the spreads of polio and tuberculosis were stopped, there’s no realistic public-health risk associated with the average spittle. Nobody minds when a baseball player spritzes the batter’s box between pitches.
So why does spit turn into something so offensive when it’s launched in anger?
It’s Deuteronomy, stupid.
And Job. And Numbers. And Isaiah.
Turns out the revulsion over spit dates back to even before there was an NFL. Just as the NFL can cite chapter and verse on why it was disciplining Taylor, theologians know that the Testaments New and Old can serve as guidebooks on How to Inflict Shame on Another Human Being.
Lesson 1: Spit on ’em.
Take, for example, Deuteronomy 25:9, in which the punishment for a man who refuses to accept his biblical burden of caring for a dead brother’s family is detailed thus: “Then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the presence of the elders, remove a sandal from his foot, spit in his face, and say, ‘So shall be done to the man who will not build up his brother’s house.’”
Or Job 30:10, where Job, history’s most put-upon soul and a guy who would have made a boffo client for that Extreme Makeover: Home Edition crew, talks of how his enemies “do not hesitate to spit in my face.”
And there’s Numbers 12:14, which outlines an ancient custom in which a father spits in his daughter’s face if she disgraces him.
“The reality is, in the Bible, it’s more than just humiliating behavior,” says Herzfeld, after reading the pertinent spit passages from Numbers. “It’s understood to be destructive behavior. Spitting is compared to gossip and slander; this is basically saying you have no respect for another human being—for the feelings of another human being—if you spit on them.”
Those who also look to the New Testament for divine guidance point to Matthew 26:67, in which interrogators of Jesus “spit in his face.”
“The spitting is the most spiteful act that you can do,” says Tony Capoccia, a New Jersey–based Christian advocate whose Internet site, Bible Bulletin Board, boasts 3 million visitors a year and contains scads of information on why spitting on another of God’s creatures is an abhorrent act. “Jesus was spat upon. Ultimately, crucifixion killed him, but the act that showed the indignity of it all was the spitting. That’s the ultimate show of disrespect. How much lower you can go?”
Pittman doesn’t make for the greatest Christ figure: Off the field, he’s worked up a rap sheet that’s positively Tayloresque, highlighted by a 2003 arrest for, police said, deliberately slamming his Hummer into a car carrying his wife and 2-year-old son.
And he didn’t exactly turn the other cheek when Taylor slimed him: He threw a punch at the spitter, in full view of referee Mike Carey and the viewing public. But Pittman wasn’t fined by the league or even penalized by game officials, so dire did Carey deem Taylor’s offense.
“A lot of our norms are from biblical injunctions,” says Herzfeld. “I don’t know for certain that the Bible is the original source of the taboo with spitting, or [if] in this case the Bible is just reflecting what human nature knows: Spitting in one’s face is the ultimate rejection of another human. But don’t blame the Bible for what Sean Taylor did. What he did was disgusting. I’m a Redskins fan, but I’m not a Sean Taylor fan.”
Lawrence Smith, the self-described obsessive Redskins fan profiled in these pages last month (“Of Baubles and Bobbleheads,” 12/16/05), found the ideal buyer for his life’s worth of burgundy-and-gold collectibles: the Redskins. Days after an eBay auction for Smith’s collection ended without a single bid, he accepted a generous offer from Redskins spokesperson Karl Swanson. (Smith declines to disclose the amount.) The 32-year-old Southern Californian shipped several boxes containing the loot—including every Redskins Wheaties box, RC Cola bottle, Matchbox car, and autographed mini helmet (plus Trung Canidate’s rookie card)—to Redskins Park. In return, Smith got one last piece of memorabilia: A check with the Redskins logo on it.—Dave McKenna