Getting caught dead

It’s been remarked that June of 2009 was a bad month to be a celebrity, as numerous people laying claim to the title (although in the case of infomercial yeller Billy Mays it was a stretch) died during that month. July fourth, however, brought another death that has sparked a lot of talk, controversy, and arguments over how the dead should be remembered.

Being a football fan I was well aware of Steve McNair’s remarkable journey from the crushing rural poverty of Mississippi to NFL stardom. A quarterback who played for a small traditionally black college, he was good enough to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated in his senior year and seriously contend for the Heisman Trophy (given to the best college football player for those not familiar). He was the third player chosen in the 1995 NFL draft by the Houston Oilers, who moved to Nashville and became the Tennessee Titans. He had a very solid pro career, taking the Titans to-and barely losing-a Super Bowl and sharing the NFL Most Valuable Player award in 2003. He was traded to the Baltimore Ravens in 2006, playing there for two years before retiring last year at the age of 35. He had a reputation for toughness and playing through injury as well as doing a lot of work in the community; after a tornado struck the Nashville area he showed up with a chainsaw to help clear wreckage. He was famously devoted to his family-his wife and four sons and particularly his mother, for whom with his first big paycheck he purchased land that had once been sharecropped by her family to build her a house. He had just opened a restaurant near Tennessee State University that he hoped would provide students with inexpensive healthy food and was generally regarded as a pillar of the community.

Then came the Fourth of July.

That day McNair was found shot to death sitting on a sofa in the living room of a Nashville condo. At his feet, also dead, lay 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi, who was soon identified as his mistress. The story quickly unfolded-McNair and Kazemi, a waitress at a local fun center/restaurant, had been seeing each other for six months. Kazemi had told friends and family that McNair was going to divorce his wife to marry her, but as we all know the course of true love never runs smooth. Kazemi believed that McNair was seeing yet another woman, to the point of following the woman home one night although there was no confrontation. Two days before their deaths, Kazemi was pulled over in a Cadillac Escalade McNair had helped her buy for suspicion of drunk driving. McNair had been with her but was allowed to leave (which per the cop car video he did quickly and the cop made sure Kazemi knew it) and did post her bail. Shortly thereafter, Kazemi bought a gun-the same gun she used to murder McNair and then kill herself.

Although it didn’t become official until a couple of days ago, that it was a murder/suicide and that McNair and Kazemi had been romantically involved was known pretty much from the beginning. There were those who claimed that McNair’s wife Mechelle had had a hit put out on her husband and mistress, but it was made clear that she knew absolutely nothing about the situation. Others insisted Kazemi’s ex-boyfriend, whom she allegedly dumped to take up with McNair and was curiously forthcoming with the media, had something to do with it. In the end, however, it was as it first appeared to be-a young woman in financial trouble involved with a millionaire athlete who by her words fed her the Oldest Line Married Men Use To Get Hot Young WomenTM and realized that she probably wasn’t going to get her “happily ever after.” A relative of hers said that her goal in life was to “be famous.” Somehow I think being known as the side piece of ass/murderer of a retired star NFL player wasn’t the type of fame Sahel Kazemi had in mind.

The circumstances of McNair’s death seemed to take everyone by surprise-and have them scrambling to put a good face on it. The overwhelming message handed out-by his family, by his friends, by Titans fans, by his old teammates and coaches, by his pastor-was “don’t think about how he died, think about how he lived.” Those who point out that McNair’s involvement with Kazemi was the direct cause of his death immediately get the “so you think he DESERVED to die for it?!” scream. It should be pointed out that the same people who are vehemently defending McNair are the same ones castigating anyone expressing sympathy over Michael Jackson’s death because Jackson was in their minds a pedophile who DID deserve to die. Ah, the smell of hypocrisy, so enjoyable …

Character, it’s said, is what you do when no one is looking. Although McNair’s good works are undeniable he wasn’t an angel before this-he’d been busted for DUI a couple of times and a handgun was found in his car on one of those occasions. He wasn’t the first athlete to have women on the side and he won’t be the last. Like it or not, however, his death will for many overshadow his life. His wife and children have to live with the knowledge that the man they thought they knew was exposed as an adulterer and liar for the world to see. I have no doubt McNair, like many who commit adultery, never thought for a nanosecond that getting with that cute little waitress would lead to him being found on a sofa with two bullets in his head and two in his chest. But if it makes one person take pause and consider the action he/she is about to take … maybe it wasn’t in vain.