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Shooting brings perspective for athletes

Fred Taylor has a permit to carry a concealed gun. His house is equipped with a high-tech security system, cameras included. Still, he wonders if all that’s enough to keep him safe.

After fellow NFL star Sean Taylor was gunned down in his own home, dead at the age of 24, Fred Taylor is considering a more primitive form of protection.

“I’m soon to get one of the big canine security dogs,” said the Jacksonville Jaguars’ running back, who isn’t related to Sean Taylor. “Don’t get caught in my yard. The dog’s going to bite you ’til the death, right on that jugular.”

If Fred Taylor sounds a bit jumpy, somewhat paranoid, even a little desperate … well, he is.

He’s not alone.

Athletes feel as though they’re under attack, their luxurious worlds invaded by thugs and hustlers and criminals who want to take them down – or take what they’ve worked so hard to earn through their skills on the courts and playing fields.

“We’re definitely targets now,” said Quentin Richardson of the New York Knicks, who still mourns the brother killed during a robbery two years ago. “They assume that we carry around large sums of money and jewelry and things like that, and right now it seems like they’re thinking we’re easy targets.”

Sean Taylor’s death was only the latest example of a crime wave that appears to have athletes in its sights. These players, who seem invulnerable with a helmet on their heads or a ball in their hands, are finding they’re all too human when staring down the barrel of a gun.

“Hate. It’s just hate,” said Cleveland Cavaliers megastar LeBron James, who can’t go anywhere without being recognized. “People just hate on us because we’re in the position that we are. They say it’s just given to us. They don’t believe we work hard to get where we’re at. So they want to try and take it from us.”

Sean Taylor, a Pro Bowl safety with the Washington Redskins, was sleeping early Monday at his home in an affluent Miami suburb, along with his longtime girlfriend and the couple’s 18-month-old daughter.

Without warning, according to a family friend, the couple were awakened by loud noises. Taylor grabbed a machete he kept nearby for protection, but it did him no good when the intruder broke down the bedroom door and fired two shots, one striking the player in the leg and ripping through a vital artery. Taylor died a little over 24 hours later.

Police are still sorting through the evidence, trying to come up with some motive for the shocking, brazen crime. But Taylor’s fellow athletes aren’t waiting for answers. Some are looking into hiring security guards. Others are considering whether to turn their homes into fortresses. Everyone is watching their back, and with good reason.

Just look at this blotter:

– Two NBA players, Eddy Curry and Antoine Walker, were robbed just weeks apart in their Chicago-area homes over the summer. Curry, his wife and an employee were tied up at his suburban mansion. Walker and a relative were similarly terrorized at his $4 million townhouse in a ritzy section of the city.

– In September, two men broke into the home of Houston Texans cornerback Dunta Robinson, tying up the victim and stealing jewelry. That same month, Memphis football player Taylor Bradford was shot to death in what police have described as a botched robbery. The four suspects allegedly thought he was carrying several thousand dollars in casino winnings.

– A burglary crew in Los Angeles has targeted homes in wealthy neighborhoods, making off with millions in cash and jewelry. Among its reported victims: Clippers star Cuttino Mobley, who lost $500,000 in cash and jewelry.

And now, Taylor.

“For the most part, we have way more money than the president, but less security,” said Minnesota Vikings safety Dwight Smith, who grew up in Detroit. “You try to move your family to a good neighborhood, but you’re never out of the way. If somebody wants to get to you, they can get to you.”

Chicago Bulls center Ben Wallace has never felt threatened, but he’s becoming increasingly wary of what could happen.

“Most of us came from the street. We feel like we know the street. We feel like we can pretty much protect ourselves. All our lives we’ve been taking care of ourselves,” he said. “Now, it’s becoming a situation where things are starting to be a little different. Now, you might need that bodyguard standing beside you, extra security at your house.”

That athletes, often black athletes, are under fire is not surprising to James Peterson, an English professor at Bucknell University who has studied African-American culture.

He pointed out that many athletes come from tough backgrounds themselves. Even when they sign million-dollar contracts, it’s hard to get away from those early influences.

“A lot of it has to do with entourages. These guys hang out with the same cast that they did on the streets,” Peterson said. “Some of those people are jealous, or they bring the wrong element into the athlete’s sphere.”

And it’s not surprising, he added, that athletes increasingly find themselves robbery targets.

“They’ve got the toys that the burglar wants,” Peterson said. “They’ve got the flatscreen TVs. They’ve got the right stereo systems, the right video games, the right jewelry. A burglar from the streets would much rather be robbing someone like Sean Taylor … than some old couple across the street who’s not going to have those type of things.”

In the early morning hours of Jan. 1, Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was killed after leaving a Denver nightclub, his limousine sprayed with bullets in a drive-by shooting that apparently stemmed from an altercation in the club between people in his party and gang members.

Peterson said athletes are especially vulnerable when they go out in public, and he feels many are unfairly labeled as instigators when they’re often just trying to defend themselves.

AP Sports Writers Mark Long in Jacksonville, Fla., Brian Mahoney in New York, Tom Withers in Cleveland, Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis, Colin Fly in Milwaukee, Andrew Seligman in Chicago, Arnie Stapleton in Denver, Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., and George Henry in Suwanee, Ga., contributed to this report.

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