Fox: McNair, like all of us, had his flaws

Friday, July 10, 2009

We've all had our brushes with celebrities.

One of the perks of being in the media is that I've had a few more than I would normally expect working in another profession. And if you count second-hand brushes with fame -- I know a lot of people who've interviewed celebrities -- I've had a lot of them.

"So tell me about Steve McNair," a crime reporter once asked our Titans beat writer while I was in the room. "Is he as really good a guy as he seems to be?"

The answer was in the affirmative. The beat writer, a man who got to know McNair a little bit, painted a picture of a stand-up guy, a guy who would be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. A guy who didn't hide when things went poorly. A guy who played who wasn't afraid to play with pain.

As you might imagine, that brief question-and-answer exchange was on my mind Saturday when news came that McNair was fatally shot. "Steve McNair isn't supposed to die," I wrote to a friend that night.

In many ways, McNair was Nashville sports, at least in terms of pro sports.

While running back Eddie George carried the team when it arrived in Nashville, McNair was its soul. He engineered a late comeback in the Super Bowl, rallying the team from a 16-0 deficit to tie the game. The Titans lost, but it's considered one of the most heroic losing efforts in modern sports history.

Then, as George's legs started to fail, McNair took over. He won NFL co-MVP honors in 2003, a stunning acheivement for a team built around its running game.

All the while, McNair was known for his legendary toughness. More than once, he would sit out practice with injuries, limp to get on the bus, hobble to the stadium -- and then lead his team to victory in comeback fashion.

Even after he left the Titans and retired as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, he came back to Nashville. McNair held football camps for local youth and was committed to helping develop the area around Tennessee State University.

So, as my friend asked, was he as really a good guy as he seemed to be?

Other friends of mine would answer with a loud "no."

Certainly, McNair wasn't perfect -- a married man, he was gunned down in the company of a woman who was barely half his age when they started dating this spring.

He had been arrested for DUI in 2004, a charge eventually thrown out on a technicality. He had other minor brushes with the law. Perhaps nothing on the order of say, Pacman Jones. But they were brushes with the law, nonetheless.

It's come out this week that McNair's wife, Mechelle, didn't even know about the relationship. And it's been reported that one of the reasons the woman, Sahel Kazemi, killed McNair and herself was because she suspected McNair's involvement with a third woman.

As someone pointed out, he'd be alive today had he been at home with his family. But the penalty for adultery isn't death.

Does that make him a bad husband? Probably. A bad person? Not necessarily. The fact McNair cheated on his marriage doesn't make him a bad guy. The fact McNair was a sports icon doesn't make him a good guy.

From our experiences with family and friends, at work and at church, and from the softball fields to the VFW hall, we all know lots of people. And all of them have complex personalities.

In that sense, celebrities aren't really any different. And that's a fact we shouldn't really brush aside.