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Taylor treading close to O.J. status

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Posted July 22, 2010 @ 7:07 p.m. ET
By Michael Blunda

When you hear the name of O.J. ­Simpson, your first thoughts are almost certainly the white Bronco chase, Johnnie Cochran, the bloody glove and the verdict in the "Trial of the ­Century." If you think about him long enough, you eventually might conjure up memories of his Hall of Fame football career.

Unfortunately for Lawrence Taylor, he's coming dangerously close to falling into the same category.

Fresh off his latest transgression — he was charged with third-degree statutory rape and patronization after allegedly soliciting a prostitute, who turned out to be a 16-year-old runaway girl, in a New York hotel in May — the former New York Giants great is back in the news for the wrong reasons. He recently pleaded not guilty to these charges with a trial slated for this winter, but the fact that Taylor, a 51-year-old married man, was even mixed up in this business is enough for him to be deemed guilty in the court of public opinion.

In terms of his legacy, the people's view of L.T. is all that really matters, and this incident could go further in damaging his reputation than any of his previous offenses — and there are many of those. Taylor admitted to being a frequent drug and alcohol abuser during his 13-year NFL career, and he became even more immersed in the cocaine lifestyle immediately upon his retirement in 1993. He twice went to rehab, but it didn't do much good, as he was arrested on two occasions for trying to purchase cocaine from undercover officers. It took until late '98 for the linebacker to clean up his act.

What makes Taylor's May indiscretion all the worse is that for the better part of the last 12 years, he had stayed out of trouble and gone to great lengths to repair his tarnished image. Appearing in multiple movies and TV shows, including a stint as a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars," he had developed into a likable, family-friendly personality — a far cry from the bloodthirsty, hardened individual he was in his playing days.

But after allegedly being caught up with an underage prostitute, all those years of hard work have been tossed right out the window, whether or not he actually committed these acts. The American public is an extremely forgiving group, realizing that professional athletes aren't perfect and willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Just look at the way they've embraced those who have admitted to their wrongdoings and moved on, such as the Lakers' Kobe Bryant. It doesn't take much to get the people back on your side.

They're not stupid, though. String together enough small incidents — or commit one major crime — and you'll be shunned forever. O.J. is a perfect example. While he was acquitted of murder in 1995, he became a hated man because the general belief was that he was responsible for the deaths of two people. Suddenly, the fact that he was an all-time great running back didn't seem as important. In the eyes of most, he forever would be known first and foremost as a criminal.

Now, Taylor's misdeeds have never been on Simpson's level, but his rap sheet is long enough that memories of the Hall of Famer on the gridiron are being replaced by lasting images of his mug shot on the news. He may have been the best defensive player to ever play the game, transforming the outside linebacker position with an aggressive nature that resulted in 142 sacks. That won't matter much to people, though, if he is convicted in this case.

There's no doubting that L.T. was a monster on the field. But if it's proven that he's also a monster off of it, he better get used to the O.J. comparisons, because any fame he achieved as a player will forever be supplanted by infamy.

 

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