Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Judge Not...?

The dust seems to have settled on the Steve McNair affair. In the brief span of 10 days, the former NFL great was shot dead, oft-eulogized, and then buried in the ground in Mississippi. And, in what appears to be an open-and-shut police case, the whys and wherefores of McNair’s demise have been neatly summarized and accepted as fact.

If you’d asked me 11 days ago what I thought of McNair, I’d’ve told you that, with the exception of watching Walter Payton during my years in Chicago, McNair was the most exciting football player I’d ever followed on a local fan basis. Since 1999, when I moved to Music City, watching McNair quarterback the Titans was a thrilling experience. His feats of derring-do, if not always bringing victory, certainly roused the childlike fan in me, easily propelling me off the couch with uncontrollable zeal and a pumped fist, and evoking spontaneous whoops of joy—even when there was no one else there to share the moment with.

So Steve McNair was my hero, as he was to many, many others. On the field.

The off-the-field McNair has been touted as an upbeat fellow, modest, generous-minded, and a man who, in the common parlance of athlete-speak, gave back to his community. Or, as one newspaper account put it, had a “charming personality and charitable nature.”

In the absence of other hard data, McNair’s giving seems to have come in the form of making public appearances (Kiwanis Club, United Way, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, etc.) and running football camps. Fine things all.

But we’re not really talking about Mother Teresa here. McNair’s public appearances for causes are pretty typical for wealthy, popular, high-profile athletes who only work at their real jobs for about six months of the year.

Unfortunately, what is also known about McNair is that he tended to get mixed up in DUIs—either his own or friends’—that he liked hanging out in bars and that he carried a gun. In the wake of his murder, and as details of his relationship with Sahel Kazemi came to light, we also learned about the McNair who publicly, even if not necessarily carelessly, cheated on his wife. Further anecdotal evidence has also pointed to the fact that he may have been cheating on the mistress who eventually killed him. So we’d be plain old naive to believe that there weren’t other “side brawds” involved with this married father of four.

But, hey, Steve was a guy so full of life that he wanted to spread the love around. That’s cool, especially to those folks who easily accept—or expect—that that’s what virile men do. And truly, if this whole tawdry sequence of events had never happened, McNair would remain a hero, and blissful ignorance would be ours.

Unfortunately, McNair’s risky private life became nth-degree public, and we learned he was no saint. Which is probably why I didn’t really know what to make of the eulogy of Pastor Joseph W. Walker III, of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, at the McNair memorial service in Nashville on July 9.

Walker’s somber speechifying included this: "Drop your stone the next time you write about Steve McNair. Drop your stone the next time you text somebody. Drop your stone the next time you Twitter. Drop your stone, those of you in the barbershops, the beauty shops. Those of you walking the streets on the corner, drop your stone."

The reference here apparently is to the biblical admonition, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone...” (With some irony, we note that the online Urban Dictionary defines “drop a stone” as ”Verb. An action you take to relieve yourself of a great pressure in your abdomen.”)

I guess it’s weird enough that a man of the cloth finds it necessary to include references to text-messaging and Twitter in a very public and formal eulogy. (It’s come to that, I suppose.) But Rev. Walker seems to have missed a golden opportunity to weigh in on the wages of sin and the importance of family men sticking to their families.

I wouldn’t guess that Walker condones McNair’s “playa” lifestyle, but if a man of the pastor’s station doesn’t set us straight on things like that, who will? Are there no standards for Christian and/or moral behavior? And if there are, who will remind us of those standards if not the high-profile leader of a large flock of Christians? Do we all get a clerical pass based on “the first stone”?

McNair’s actions leading up to his shocking murder do not bespeak a man of admirable character. It’s sad, but that’s simply the truth. He still played awesome football, and if folks with tunnel-vision want to hike on over to LP Field and celebrate McNair’s life by watching highlights of his pro career on the Jumbo-Tron, then that’s great. Otherwise, now he just looks like another high-living, grossly overpaid, irresponsible jock.

Too bad Rev. Walker didn’t reach for a little Shakespeare for his remarks. He could’ve quoted Hamlet’s line to his good friend Horatio:

“Give me that man
That is not passion's slave, and I will wear him
In my heart's core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.” 

Officially, I’d very much like to know Rev. Walker’s stance re: McNair. If it’s simply “Judge not lest ye be judged,” then it’s open season for us all—to do as we wish without any moral obligations to others. And that seems troubling.


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Blake Wylie said...

I think I'll stop you at "and he carried a gun" and ask....

What's wrong with that?