I found out about the Steve McNair tragedy on the Fourth of July, as abruptly as anyone else I suppose. I was on my stomach, laying on a king size bed in my room at the Sheraton Keauhou Resort in Kona, Hawaii. Strangely enough I had the TV tuned to ESPN, watching the U.S. play Canada in a Rugby World Cup qualifier.
It wasn’t shocking that ESPN was my channel of choice, but rather that rugby was the Fourth of July featured game. Not on ESPN2 or ESPN16, but the original.
It seemed too good to be true – Don’t ream me for loving a mostly international sport, I played in college and then coached after. – and it was. They switched over to something like Twins vs. White Sox, or at least they were all set to when out of the blue ESPN cut to an official news break.
“Steve McNair was found dead today in his Nashville, Tennessee home.”
A wave of numbness immediately came over me. Not that McNair’s death actually affects my life directly, but still when a 36-year old professional athlete, last seen in impeccable shape, is found on his couch with multiple, fatal, gun-shot wounds, well it makes you think.
The first sequence of thoughts circling my mind, were of McNair in uniform again. Winning the co-MVP, falling a yard shy of overtime against the Rams in the Super Bowl, rifled deep outs and broken-play scrambles.
The second was of another NFL star; Plaxico Burress.
Why Burress? Mainly because he is the most recent professional athlete – specifically football player – to find himself in trouble with the law and the league, due to a firearm. But also because he’s an example of a disturbing trend spreading like the Swine Flu these days.
As fans we find ourselves overcome with sadness when a Steve McNair, Darren Williams or Sean Taylor finds themselves on the wrong end of a bullet (Is there really ever a right end?) but beside ourselves with frustration and rage when a Plaxico Burress or Marshawn Lynch is arrested and found with a gun.
Why are we even surprised anymore to find that some athletes carry weapons with them?
Is it because you and I don’t do a double-take back inside the house for a left behind 8mm, like we had forgotten our car keys?
Ultimately most of us become upset at what we don’t understand. We can’t wrap our minds around the idea that a person can feel some alone and unprotected when they are so wealthy and famous with infinite resources at their disposal, other than guns.
Body guards, entourages, mooches, leaches, annoying fourth cousins, these are all people we associate with the modern athlete. Mostly we don’t ever picture them alone. Solidarity isn’t the sexiest of pictures to paint.
In truth, those who seem to never be alone, may be the most. Who can they trust? How can they socialize, or just simply live their lives in public? They can’t, so they don’t. And if they do, many decide they need an insurance plan, one which State Farm wouldn’t look fondly upon as a, “Good Neighbor.”
Even in public, athletes feel isolated because of their accessibility. At their homes – which should be private, but most definitely are not – I can only imagine that they must feel imprisoned, only in a way in which those who are demented can locate them with but a few clicks, but they have no idea who those psychos are and when or if they will attack.
You almost know it’s coming, but don’t know when or who. Someone is always out to get you, one of life’s sad facts. The same reason why we keep our answers short and sweet, while looking to book it with strides as long as we can muster the first chance we get, when approached on the street by someone who looks and smells a little strange, only magnified by like 300,000 times, is the one that causes those who are rich and in the limelight to constantly fear everyone around them.
When everyone knows who you are, what you do and yes, where you live, one finds themselves living a life without a safety net. When everyone knows you, no one can protect you.
Which is where guns come into play.
I’m not saying athletes should carry weapons with them in public, or that it should be less frowned upon by the leagues they play in, or the law for that matter.
What I am expressing is that as fans and fellow community members, we should not only be less surprised when an athlete shoots himself in the leg at a club, but that we should also think about cutting them a break by being less judgmental when spewing our verbal wrath their way.
Whether you are pro-guns or against them, we all should be a little more understanding. Hopefully the McNair situation shines a little light on that.
If it doesn’t, maybe the next death will.
(Editor’s Note: After this column was published, authorities determined McNair was shot and killed by a young woman he was seeing behind his wife’s back. The woman was found to have taken her own life after McNair’s. Things are seldom what they seem to be.)