It's sometimes hard to tell whether the media has a field day with Ike Taylor, or Ike Taylor has a field day with the media.
Steelers fans should be well versed in the cornerback's loquacious nature, which wouldn't be out of place in an Aaron Sorkin script. Taylor's never met a microphone he didn't like, and I've never seen a Taylor quote I haven't loved.
Over this past week it feels like Ike has been lighting up column inches all over the place. If you're like me, you watch the top 100 NFL players on NFL Network every Wednesday. The list is quite clearly a sham, but that won't stop me watching because I am mildly curious as to where Antonio Brown falls to. After all, I want to be well prepared and well informed when I inevitably complain about the disrespect he just received from a meaningless list.
Anyway, Polamalu's segment popped up last week, and to everyone's delight Ike Taylor has the honour of narrating it. He then proceeds to explain how Polamalu speaks Greek, chills in caves with monks (a recurring theme apparently) and that the monks are the secret behind Troy's legendary ability to jump a snap count. Fantastic.
Over the weekend Taylor gave an interview which in part covered his training regime during the off-season. Interspersed among those details was Ike calling himself a Rooney, talking about fiery passion and burning desire and just generally being Ike. I thought to myself "I can't use half this stuff, but this guys got quotes for days."
And today it appears as though Ike tore OTAs up with some fairly fantastic comments about Polamlau being Jesus and the back end of the Steelers defense morphing into DC comics greatest hits edition. You can read a full report here by BTSC's Dale Grdnic.
Of course none of this is really news, Taylor won "The Chief Award" in 2013 for his cooperation with the media. He gets that reporters come with the job description,he understands that they have a job to do as well, and he's not afraid to be vocal and get his point across. He likes to have fun as well.
I've focused on the more whimsical quotes here, because that's what Taylor does best, but he's not just a guy for one-liners. One quote in particularly from Dale's piece today was actually really quite striking.
[on taking a pay cut] "My salary is a lot of money ... for anybody,'' Taylor said. "So, I've been fortunate enough to be making a lot of money since '05. And you have to decide if you're going to put your pride aside when that time comes, and that time came. Millions are millions no matter how you look at it, and that's how I look at it.''
There are so many ways Taylor could have gone with that question. He could have spouted the usual nonesense about how it's never about him, or that he just wants to win etc. and he'd look good doing it because his actions have already spoken louder than any of his words can. Instead, he actually graples with what can be an uncomftorbale question and addresses what is a sensitive issue for him (his pride in his own abilities and worth) and for society in general (the vast sums of money paid to modern athletes.)
So instead of the usual dribble, we got a straight up answer. Yes he has pride, and he's had to swallow it in taking a paycut. But at the end of the day, he's made millions for over nearly a decade, stands to make millions more, and he's hardly had to jump on a grenade or anything. Concise, direct, pretty remarkable actually.
I'm focusing on Ike Taylor for two reasons.
1). It seems likely that this will be his last year with the Steelers. There was already talk of him being cut (although that was mostly due to a bloated salary) and generally there is little market for a 35 year old declining cornerback in what is an increasingly uber-athletic league.
We should take this oppurtunity to appreciate Ike's openness and love of the platform whilst we've still got him.
2). Athletes in todays NFL, and sports in general, are more leashed and muzzled than perhaps any other time in history. Not just by their bosses, although teams certainly play a part in clamping down on originality and a players willingess to express themselves. It has after all historically been a headache for them.
Fans play their part as well. We desire our teams players to be perfect. To eat, sleep, breathe and bleed our team, to live and die by it. We don't want to hear them pursuing other avenues of life outside of the game, we want them to constantly be in training, to be speaking in some fashion about the team or the game.
Million dollar endorsment deals can be lost on one click of twitter. A misconstrued comment in a post-game interview can destroy a reputation.
With social media and the intense 24-hour media scrutiny that goes along with the NFL, players inhabit a goldfish bowl where a perception of someone or something can be turned on its head in a second.
The response by players is to reign everything in, their personalites and their opinions. And who can blame them? The result is we are served with endless platitudes, statements devoid of any real meaning and a general lack of emotional attachment to players.
Remember the Richard Sherman "meltdown". Part of the supposed problem was that athletes weren't supposed to act like that, it set a bad example for all sorts of people. Well I'll take genuine emotion any day, even if it is a tad over zealous, over player X saying he has a lot of respect for player Y, player Y's team, player Y's coaches and player Y's equipment manager after every game. It's the same script over and over.
Some people might be afraid to say the things Ike does. They might be scared that their humour and quirkiness would be portrayed through the media as weirdness and strangeness.
There are precious few like Taylor in the NFL, who aren't afraid to at least try and tread the fine line between Richard Sherman (if you think that way) and Marshaw Lynch. Being humorous, informative and honest.
That's something we can all appreciate and enjoy for however long Ike Taylor has left.