By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Phil Taylor raises awareness: West, Texas – not to be confused with West Texas, the region – is a city of 2,800 located 70 miles south of Dallas, just a few tumbleweeds from the very center of the vast state.
Until last month, West, Texas, was known as the “kolache capital of Texas,” a distinction earned from the popularity of the pastry native to the predominant Czech population in the city.
But on April 17, a fire and explosion at a massive fertilizer plant rocked the area. The impact was comparable to a 2.1 magnitude earthquake. At least 15 people were killed, including first responders and residents in apartments and houses situated just hundreds of yards from the plant.
Browns defensive lineman Phil Taylor, who attended Baylor University in nearby Waco, Texas, was saddened that the tragedy seemed to get lost in an eerily busy news cycle.
The day before, there were the terrorist bombings at the Boston Marathon. A month later, three girls held captive and tortured for a decade on Cleveland’s near west side were rescued.
Taylor decided to do something to raise awareness of the West explosion. He and his manager devised a campaign to market “We are West, Texas” T-shirts. It’s picking up steam through Taylors Twitter handle of @PhilTaylor98. All proceeds will go to the families of the victims, Taylor said.
The Baylor connection: “I’m doing it to support the families,” Taylor told me on Monday. “I think (the tragedy) was kind of put on the backburner because of the things that happened in Boston … and now with the girls in Cleveland. I want them to know they’re not forgotten and I’m trying to help them out, too.”
Taylor styled the T-shirts in the green and yellow colors of Baylor and included the school’s bear mascot. Baylor is in Waco, Texas, about 15 miles from the fertilizer explosion.
“I don’t know anybody who was lost in it, but our whole Baylor community as a whole, we were affected, because it happened so close to the campus,” Taylor said. “I just want to raise as much money as I can. I want everybody to know I care about what’s happening in West, Texas.”
Taylor has enlisted the support of the growing number of Baylor alums in the NFL, including Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin 3, Titans receiver Kendall Wright and recent Dallas draft pick Terrance Williams, also a receiver. Taylor has also gotten support from Browns teammates Josh Gordon, who also played at Baylor, Brandon Weeden, Joe Haden, Greg Little, T.J. Ward and Chris Ogbonnaya.
A sign of maturity: It’s easy to forget that Taylor was kicked off the Penn State team as a sophomore by former coach Joe Paterno for his involvement in a brawl on campus and a subsequent pool party incident. He has been a trouble-free player in Cleveland since arriving as a first-round pick in 2011.
Taylor’s draft status was restored by transferring to Baylor and having three incident-free years and two solid football seasons in Waco. The only news Taylor made with the Browns was a year ago when he popped a pectoral muscle bench-pressing in the team’s weight room. He recovered to play the final seven games, during which the run defense improved by 30 yards a game.
“I’ve matured a lot,” Taylor said. “In the NFL you’ve got to represent the team and you’ve got to represent yourself off the field. It is what it is. You have to know what’s the right thing to do.”
Taylor’s desire to support the stricken families of West, Texas, is a wonderful gesture. It’s a sign that Taylor may be evolving as a leader. On such a young team as the Browns, that is a welcome and significant development.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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