Thursday, July 16, 2009
A second straight post about the recently departed.
It’s hard to know what to say about Steve McNair’s truly shocking death. However, I do know what I’m not going to say. In the news articles posted in the immediate aftermath of his death those who knew him kept repeating three things to describe him: “Warrior”, Leader” and “Charity work”. However, as soon as the sordid details of his death spilled out it all switched to talk about McNair’s “double life”, how McNair’s image didn’t match the reality. Really? Am I supposed to believe that there were grown adults out there who actually had an image of McNair, or any football player for that matter, as a super-moral upright clean-living perfect family guy? How naïve would you have to be to think of McNair in that way? I understand that children tend to worship their athletic heroes but you’d like to think that upon reaching adulthood this simplistic attitude would mature into something a bit more realistic. Basically, admire what athletes do on the field and hope that off the field they don’t embarrass themselves and their fans too badly.
The fact Steve McNair cheated on his wife in no way puts the lie to his existing image as warrior/leader/humanitarian. I certainly won’t condone adultery but we all know McNair was no different than a whole lot of other athletes (And Politicians. Preachers. Hundreds of millions of other human beings on this planet. Etc.). What he did with his girlfriend doesn’t change what he accomplished on the field. It doesn’t change the heightened level of play he inspired in his teammates. And it can’t possibly make less meaningful all the time and money he spent helping others less fortunate than he. The fact McNair chose a psycho for a mistress was unbelievably unfortunate for himself and his family but I don’t see why this changes his image. If his wife honestly and truly had no clue about her husband’s extracurricular activities then yeah I suppose you could say he was leading a sort of “double life” but really, McNair wasn’t a Mark Sanford or a Ted Haggard. I don’t recall McNair holding himself out as a paragon of “family values” or preaching about the virtues of monogamy. Basically, all this talk about the “other side” of McNair effectively blames him for his own murder. But his moral failings aren’t crimes. He wasn’t O.J. He was a victim. If we’d first heard about this crazy girlfriend in the context of a messy divorce rather than a murder/suicide would that have irrevocably altered how we see McNair? Of course not. And nobody would have been writing stupid columns about the “real” Steve McNair.
For me, thoughts about Steve McNair begin with his tremendous 4th quarter performance in Super Bowl XXXIV. He brought his team back from 16 points down, still the greatest deficit erased in Super Bowl history. His defense failed him in that game and a superhuman tackle prevented another comeback and a stunning win, but McNair could well have been the best player on the field that night. I associate McNair with all the games he gutted out, ignoring injuries and tremendous pain. He was the warrior everyone says he was and it was too bad all the cumulative injuries eroded his skills and ended his career prematurely. It’s sad but inevitable that from now on we’ll always think of the way he went out when we hear the name of Steve McNair. But those tabloid details only flesh out the picture of who he was off the field; they don’t change who he was on it. The memories stay the same.