The noise football fans heard on July 4th was not of fireworks. It was the collective gasps of fans hearing the news that Steve McNair was shot dead in the early morning hours. How could this football icon be dead at the age of 36? He's a former league MVP, came within one yard of winning the Super Bowl on the last play of the game, was on the cover of NFL Madden, and a three time Pro Bowler. He continued to play in pain in his 13 year NFL career. He endured turf toes, and a bruised sternum. He had back surgery. During games he would pop dislocated fingers back in place, go back out of the field and lead his teams on to victories. He couldn't be dead. Not Steve McNair. It must be another Steve McNair, not THE Steve McNair. Unfortunately, it was that Steve McNair.
After a few days it was revealed that McNair was shot a total of four times. Two in the head and two in the upper torso. The investigation shows that the first shot was to his right temple, probably while he was sleeping in his Nashville condo he rented with a longtime friend, Wayne Neeley. The shooter was determined to be McNair's 20 year old girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi. Kazemi was also found dead in the condo with a single gunshot wound to her head.
Steve was married with four kids and his wife, Mechelle, has been described as "very distraught." That is probably an understatement when it's been determined that she had no idea that her husband had been unfaithful to her for sometime. There was a lot of information for Mechelle to digest at one time. Steve had been in a Cadillace Escapade that was registered in Steve and Kazemi's names two nights prior to their deaths when Kazemi was arrested for DUI. She didn't know about the affair, the car that her husband bought for his girlfriend or the condo he had with a good friend.
It was revealed that Kazemi became jealous of another lady that McNair had been seeing. The football hero that had been giving back to his community had been cheating on his family with two other women. It wasn't his first affair. Before Steve's funeral, it was discovered that McNair had been seeing a topless erotic dancer in Minnesota before he met his current girlfriends. All of this while his wife knew nothing of any of the affairs.
Since I'm a School Resource Officer at a middle school in South Carolina, I also teach a character education class to 7th and 8th graders. We talk all the time about decisions and the effects of those decisions, not only on the person making that decision, but others as well. I have a sign outside of my office that reads, "The quality of your life is the direct result of the quality of your choices." That statement rings so true in Steve McNair's case.
McNair's death has adversely affected thousands of people. Some have estimated there were over 4000 people who attended McNair's funeral at University of Southern Mississippi's Reed Green Coliseum. Several former players attended also. Current Tennesee Titan quarterback, Vince Young was chosen to speak. Young who is used to running for his life from gorilla type defensive tackles was two universes removed from his comfort zone. As he began to speak, he nervously paced back and forth and stated that "Steve was like a hero to me and heroes are not supposed to die." Young's voice trailed off at the end as he tried unsuccesfuly to choke back the tears. Others said they were there to celebrate a king. His former coach at his alma mater, Alcorn State University, Cardell Jones, said that "Mississippi has lost a tremendous legend." Frank Wycheck, former Titan teammate, just after learning McNair had been killed said that he was blown away and that he thought Steve was indestructible. Sorry, Frank. Not this day.
We can play the "what if" game all day long. The point being, if McNair had been faithful to his wife and family, he wouldn't have had to worry about making a jealous girlfriend mad and being shot by her. McNair had just opened a restaurant in June. It was close to a college campus and he ensured it would be reasonably priced so cash strapped college students would be able to eat affordably. Steve seemed to be doing all the right things. Things we wanted successful people with financial success to do and help those down on their luck to do.
The flipside of this is a guy named Akili Smith. Smith was on top of the professional football world in 1999 when he was picked by the Cincinnati Bengals with the third overall pick in that year's NFL draft. He got a cool $10.8 million just to sign that contract.
Cincinnati had a 16 week off season program but he only had to be in the queen city four days a week. On his days off, he would head back to his hometown of San Diego and party. His phone constantly rang and he was constantly tempted by women, his friends and club promoters trying to capitalize on the hometown boy who has struck it big. Smith admits that he was an embarrassment off the field. He only played in 22 games in the NFL. In that time he accumulated more interceptions that touchdown passes while playing quarterback for the Bengals. He jumped around NFL Europe and the CFL before finally returning to San Diego where he was reunited with his fomer coordinator, Mike Jordona at Grossmont Junior College. Smith would be the new quarterbacks coach. Smith would also go back to class to finish up two semester's worth of work to get a degree.
Smith will also work on his masters in theology degree to follow in his father's (Ray) footsteps for a career behind the pulpit rather than behind a center on the football field. While Smith dreams of coaching in the NFL, he wouldn't mind being a team chaplain either, even if it means taking him to the other side of the planet. He'll go to whatever team God puts him on, Smith has said.
Akili Smith realized he was messing up by partying and doing all the wrong things. McNair did not before it was too late. Heroes aren't suppose to die this way. No, Vince....they're not. Quality of choices and quality of life. The two go hand in hand.