A lot happened since my last column. Roger Federer became the undisputed King of the Slams. Manny Ramirez returned from his steroid suspension and found that the fans missed him more than the critics thought they would. Serena Williams beat her sister and won her second Grand Slam of the year, but is still ranked second in the world.
And Steve McNair was shot to death.
By now we all know the story. The former NFL quarterback was discovered Saturday alongside his girlfriend in an apparent murder-suicide. There is no sense in re-hashing the details. They have been talked about over and over again since the news broke Saturday afternoon. What should be talked about is the reaction that the media has had to the whole sordid affair (no pun intended).
The media’s reaction has been a bit different than the reaction of fans. Football fans (not just Titans fans) – like everyone else – were stunned at the news and preferred to talk about the player McNair was as opposed to whatever was going on in his private life. The media has been a bit different.
Sure, media members have talked about the warrior McNair was on the field, and rightly so. But, in a sampling of columnists around the country and sports radio , I’ve discovered that writers and radio talk show hosts are only too happy to take McNair to task for the way he conducted his personal life.
A good example of this is Jay Mariotti
. I’ve known Jay for over ten years. I think he’s a pretty good writer. He’d be a great writer if he didn’t always jump to blast someone. His piece
on AOL Monday wasn’t a hatchet job, but it certainly wasn’t a tribute to McNair either. Jay was only too happy to point out that the former Titan and Raven had been on the wrong side of the law before.
“But if you looked closely enough, which his beloved fans in Nashville were reluctant to do, you’d have noticed danger signs. In 2003, he was pulled over by police who said he had a blood-alcohol content level of .18 percent, more than twice the state’s legal limit. In the same episode, he faced charges of possessing a 9mm weapon. Mysteriously, all charges were dropped. There was no public outcry at the time, as there would be for some athletes, because McNair was that revered. He was honored regularly for his direct involvement with the Steve McNair Foundation, his work with Boys and Girls Clubs, his Thanksgiving turkey deliveries to the needy and his tireless efforts after Hurricane Katrina.”
That was actually tame compared to what I heard two different shows on Chicago’s 670 The Score. The afternoon team of Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein – two guys I have a lot of respect for – made childish jokes about what can happen if you cheat on your wife. Laurence Holmes – who hosts nights on The Score – called the whole thing ‘seedy.’ And as I was driving along – returning from my holiday break – I couldn’t help but think that the media was wrong to point accusing fingers at a man who died way too young.
It doesn’t matter what he was like off the field, and frankly – I never met or talked to McNair. I have no idea what McNair the man was like. What matters is that he’s no longer here.
My colleagues in the media (and I’ve done it in the past as well to be totally honest with you) love to get on the soapbox and blast someone for doing something that – on its face – is morally, ethically, and sometimes legally – wrong. The problem is when you do that before knowing all of the facts, you might just wind up with egg on your face.
The Sean Taylor murder is a great example of this. How many radio guys and writers assumed that Taylor’s past of hanging out with the wrong crowd led to his untimely death? A whole bunch of them. And they all had to apologize when the truth came out – that Taylor’s murder had nothing to do with his past and everything to do with a home invasion.
Yes, we know that McNair and Sahel Kazemi were dating. That’s been established by the police in Nashville. But that’s all we know.
Was it an affair? It might have been. But, it also might have been a case where McNair and his wife (who may have been living separate lives apart from each other by the way) were either separated or in the process of getting a divorce. If that’s the case, then McNair’s only mistake was dating someone who might have had some ‘issues.’
Consider another possibility. Maybe McNair and his wife had an ‘understanding.’ It wouldn’t be the first open marriage in the history of civilization. If that’s the case, then McNair – again – did nothing wrong.
So he was dating a girl who was young enough to be his daughter. So what? How many athletes – heck – how many guys in their thirties or forties go after a younger woman? That’s a shocker to anyone in this day and age? Please!
And maybe he was just having an affair with Kazemi. Plenty of people – both men and women I might add – cheat on their signifigant others. I believe there was a man named Clinton who had trouble being faithful to his wife. He was elected President of the United States (and re-elected, too) – even though it was common knowledge that he had a wandering eye (among other things). Having an affair is not something you should pay for with your life (though your bank account may suffer).
There are plenty of star athletes who weren’t perfect. I’ll just use one as an example. Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic who cheated on his wife for years until they got divorced. Yet, when he passed away fourteen years ago, no one took him to task for his faults. He was remembered as a great player.
I know that people like Mariotti (with whom I have argued for years on this point) that believe athletes have a higher responsibility because of their standing. That they are role models. If the McNair story has taught us anything, it’s that the superstar athlete isn’t that much different than the rest of us. They put their pants on one leg at a time. They have the same faults that you and I do. Yet, it was much more titillating to talk about what McNair was doing in his personal life as opposed to the warrior that he was on the field or the fact that someone so young was gunned down in the prime of his life.
We in the media have a LONG, LONG way to go.