Although we’ll probably never know what triggered the death-rage of Sahel Kazemi on July 4 in Nashville, we definitely know this much: the mess Steve McNair got himself into and the result of his relationship with Kazemi will send shock waves through NFL locker rooms for a long time to come.
Somewhere today, and tomorrow, discreet girlfriends all over the country are getting their walking papers from athletes.
If, in fact, there’s any kind of victory in the wake of McNair’s death, it gets awarded to the pro athlete wife. A lot of them got their husbands back on Sunday. Families have been saved. A harsh reality? Maybe. But a reality it is.
There’s nothing left to say about the situation in Nashville that will somehow cover all of the damage Sahel Kazemi did when she fired four bullets into an unsuspecting McNair early Saturday morning. She killed a man, herself, and completely wrecked his family, both immediate and extended. Her family grieves as well, having lost a daughter in an almost unthinkable fashion. No words can accurately portray the impact this situation is having on everyone.
There have been media members – ESPN contributor Jay Mariotti among them – who insist that McNair “got what was coming to him” based on his betrayal to Mechelle McNair and a recent series of brushes with the law. I’ve seen plenty of Facebook comments – mostly from females, frankly – who also contend that McNair simply came face to face with his “day of reckoning”. I don’t agree with that line of thinking, but I’m also American enough to accept the fact that everyone is entitled to their opinion.
The irony of all ironies surfaced earlier this afternoon when a friend of Kazemi’s told police she (Kazemi) suspected McNair of possibly having a relationship with yet ANOTHER female and the discovery of such could have possibly led to the murder-suicide on Saturday morning. Talk about whacky — “OK, I’m seeing this guy while he’s married…and now I find out he might be seeing someone else besides me…while he’s married – and seeing me – so I’ll just go ahead and put a bullet in his head to teach him a lesson.” Wow.
We’ll never know what Kazemi was thinking, of course, but all over the NFL, players are hoping beyond hope they haven’t created a situation as combustible as McNair created for himself with his double-life in Nashville.
That’s the real story now…as much as people want to know all the details of what happened last weekend, what’s even more important now is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And that’s probably the mantra hundreds of NFL’ers are whispering amongst themselves this week: “Gotta figure out a way to get rid of my friend-on-the-side, but make it friendly enough that I’m not in danger…”
The NFL locker room is an extremely sacred place. No one, almost to a man, ever thinks about singing a song on a teammate, whether or not it’s about steroids, marijuana, “another woman” or a business situation that might be deemed shady or slippery. Say what you will about the culture of the NFL clubhouse, but there are more secrets within those walls than we’ll all ever even *think* about knowing. In an odd kind of way – very odd, some might say – that’s actually a redeeming quality about the NFL locker room. It takes on a military-like setting. “If you’re going to go to battle with me every Sunday at 1pm and put your body and health on the line, I don’t give a damn what you do Monday through Saturday. Put whatever you want in your body…entertain whatever woman you want in your downtime…make money however you see fit. Just show up with me on Sunday and lay it all on the line and nothing gets between us.”
The McNair tragedy probably won’t change that locker room credo. You wear MY colors and I’m protecting you.
But the locker rooms WILL change in about four weeks when teams report to camp. It – McNair’s saga – will be the most talked-about subject amongst the players. The loudest and most obvious warning signs have been raised for everyone to see. Unless dying is a viable option for you, there’s no girl-on-the-side worth losing your life and ruining your family over, is there? Granted, the McNair-Kazemi ending is one that is far more the exception rather than the rule. No one is saying every guy in America who suddenly enters into a forbidden relationship with another female is going to end up with a bullet in his head. But, before last Saturday, most of the guys in the NFL who have “friends” in their world that their wife or significant other wouldn’t approve of didn’t think Steve McNair would be dead today.
It’s been an interesting look at human nature over the last five days. I’ve listened to sports talk in Nashville since Saturday via the world-wide web and I’ve gauged the comments of folks there and, of course, in Baltimore. The female voices are mostly chastising McNair for cheating on his wife — yet most of the females fail to even mention Kazemi – who was 16 years McNair’s junior and clearly knew about his wife and children. I’ve heard countless males contend that McNair shouldn’t be criticized since “we don’t know what type of relationship he had with his wife…” And, while that’s true, we’ve now learned through friends and sources that Mechelle McNair was NOT aware that her husband was carrying on in a deceitful manner with one – if not more – female friends in Nashville. Their house was for sale, yes. It was for sale because they were trying to move close to a lake in Nashville where McNair liked to fish and boat. It’s looking more and more like the fact of the matter was this: Mechelle McNair did not know her husband was seeing another woman. That makes it – on any level you can consider – wrong. Worth his life? No, of course not. But it’s time for folks to own up to the fact that McNair created the situation he unfortunately found himself locked into — and while nothing he did justified Kazemi executing him, there are odds associated with reckless behavior. Long odds? Perhaps. But if you run enough red lights “just to get a rush”, you’re eventually going to get t-boned in an intersection. McNair didn’t expect to die when he he befriended Kazemi or any other woman outside of his marriage, but s**t happens as the bumper sticker says. Wrong place, wrong woman, wrong time. It all looked right, felt good and appeared safe for McNair — there probably weren’t any warning signs. That is, until he fell asleep on the sofa and she put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. He never had time to talk sense into her or beg for his life. Is that the risk you take when you’re involved in a dangerous relationship with another human being? Evidently, it is.
I also understand there’s probably a need from within the African American community to protect McNair, just like there was a protection clause in Nashville that he evidently used quite a bit. Some would say he earned that after years of service to the Titans franchise. He was a role model – both on the field and in the community – to his African American brothers and sisters and I can certainly see why they’d be quick to say “let’s focus on the good he did and not worry about anything else…” — but this is not a common case of good guy doing wrong and getting treated unfairly. This is a case of good guy doing wrong and taking a bigger risk than he should have, particularly when you digest what it was he had to lose.
In the end, though, the protection from those who knew about his philandering cost McNair his life. If a busboy from Dave and Busters would have sent word out – somehow – to Mechelle McNair back in April that her husband was shagging the waitress he worked with 3 nights a week, perhaps those four boys would still have their father. If an ex-Titan teammate would have sent a discreet e-mail to Mechelle McNair two months ago when he heard through the grapevine that McNair and Kazemi spent five days in Aruba, McNair might still be alive. He’d be in hot water with his wife, most likely. And, perhaps, they’d be making plans to go their separate ways. And McNair might have paid a huge financial price if his wife would have decided to take her cheating husband to court. But he’d still be with us today. And, most likely, so would Sahel Kazemi.
As sure as the Orioles will run themselves into an out or two on the basepaths during this 3-game homestand with Toronto, you can also bet there are Titans (and, probably, Ravens) players kicking themselves for not blowing the whistle on McNair last month or last year. “Gee, I saw Mechelle at that fund-raiser in April. If only I would have said something to her then…put an anonymous note on her windshield…anything.”
But that’s not how it works in the NFL. Players don’t rat on one another. If McNair was, in fact, enjoying the youthful energy of a 19 or 20-year old girl, “more power to him” is probably what most of his friends and associates whispered over a beer and a game of pool. I’m quite certain no one threatened HIM — “Steve, you and that waitress look awfully chummy…I sure hope Mechelle doesn’t find out” — and McNair probably went out of his way to do whatever he could to make it look as innoncent as possible on the public front.
Still, if only ONE player or friend with a conscience would have alerted Mechelle McNair to her husband’s behavior, he might very well still be alive today. At the very least, they could have shared their disappointment with McNair himself and given him some kind of opportunity to get back on the straight and narrow and avoid any potential problems.
Players having girlfriends on the side isn’t uncommon in the NFL. It’s not even a dirty little secret. Dirty, maybe. But not a secret. But the game got ugly last Saturday in Nashville. “Getting caught” is one thing. Getting killed… That’s not something you overcome.
The closing chapter of this story will play out all over America over the next 90 days or so. It’s safe to say it’s already started to unfold in (insert city here) over the last 96 hours.
Break-ups have occurred, financial “settlements” have been arranged and promises of secrecy have been sworn to by both parties. Girlfriends across America are finding out where they stand — and they’re learning the hard way that when the chips are down they are, in fact, dispensable.
Here’s hoping none of them react the way Sahel Kazemi did last Saturday when she decided it was time for Steve McNair’s life to end.
McNair’s mistake was obvious. And, his behavior was reckless. But he deserved to live — and to learn from it.
Players throughout the NFL have learned from it too. You can bet your ass on that. There have been some sleepless nights and anxious moments this week as guys part ways with girls.
There was a winner in all of this, as hard as that is to believe. Wives and children won. Good for them.