I started writing articles focusing on character issues a couple of years ago and have written them sporadically ever since. I once considered writing one about Ike Taylor on the assumption that the word "character" would, in that context, take on one of its alternate definitions. According to Google, that would be:
informal: an interesting or amusing individual."he's a real character"
And then I happened across a Steelers.com article by Teresa Varley, "10 Questions with Ike Taylor." You can click the title for the link to the full article. I'll just give you a few quotes and then strongly encourage you to read the whole article.
Do you notice even more now how precious this game is not being able to play?
I always understood that part. I never take anything for granted. That's why during the off-season I am always back at it... I have given it my all, emotions and everything. I have probably put more of my emotions than physical ability into this game and that can be draining. I care so much about this team, my teammates and the organization.
Is it a challenge to be that mentally strong?
What I have been through from the time I was a kid, people don't even know half of it. It made me the person I am today as far as being mentally strong. That's why I'm always smiling. A lot of days it was tough.
What were some of those things that gave you that strength?
Just small things. One thing my mama always did, she kept us in church. She worked two jobs, so a lot of nights she wasn't at home. But we understood each other, we understood family. We had to borrow bread, had to borrow electricity, had to borrow water. We had to boil water because the hot water wasn't working. We had to leave the stove on because the heater wasn't working, had to sleep in the kitchen. There were a lot of rough nights. Going through it with other people in the family, with outsiders, we always had each other...
There was a lot of stuff. My homeboy was heavy into the drug gang. In New Orleans your mentality is different. They started messing with his family and he committed suicide. I was one of the last people he talked to. He told me I have to do something. He told me the situation. I knew what he was talking about. In New Orleans all there was were sports and drugs...Me growing up in that time the drug dealers saw something in me that I didn't and told me to stay away from them, stick to sports. I didn't get it then, I didn't see it in me. When I went to college I started to get it, especially seeing what happened to my homeboy and the situation he got into. He knew they were coming for his family so he took his life. It's crazy. It's crazy, but that's how it goes. That is when I talk about mentally tough...I can't even tell you half of the stuff I have been through. I have been through a lot, a whole lot.
Did football save you from what could have happened if you went the wrong path?
Oh yeah. I would be locked up. I would be in jail if it weren't for football, for sure. Those are the kind of guys that you were around. I stayed with my uncle who was a preacher. My mom had me in church. But it's your environment. I'm so glad they saw something in me that I didn't see in myself. Now materialistic things don't even matter. I like my watches, but hearing guys talk about some things - cars, jewelry, and the like - I think we have an owner upstairs who doesn't carry himself like that. That man has a Buick. He can have anything he wants to and he has a Buick. What part don't you see about that? We can make the excuse we never had anything. Coming into the game 70 percent of football players never did have. When they walked out of the game they still don't have because they don't know what to do. You have to maintain that, find a happy medium. At some point you have to grow. I have been fortunate to grow up.
If you had to describe yourself in three words what would they be?
Loyal, which probably helps and hurts in my decision-making. Respectful, because the more respect I give to people the more I get back regardless of status. I treat everybody with respect. The third and I guess it's more than three words, but I feel like I am David vs. Goliath. Every time I wake it's going to be an obstacle. God showed David faith in his life. I feel like through my life he showed me faith. It started when I was small. In high school, there were 1,300 kids, and my principal showed me favor and got me into Lafayette-Louisiana. In college, the dean took a liking to me. Here Papa Rooney took a liking to me. Every step in life I've been shown favor from people who are high above me and I think why, what do they see. I just take it in stride. That's how it's been. I figure I get it from being loyal and being respectful.
All I will add is, while Ike Taylor is definitely a character as defined above, the interview reveals, in a raw display of honesty, a depth of character I never would have suspected from his public "swaggin'" persona. And please don't miss the original interview. There's lots more in there which is definitely worth reading!
Heal fast, Ike, and I look forward to seeing you back on the field.