If you are a fan of professional football -- especially if you live in Nashville or Baltimore -- the July 4th weekend marked the anniversary of the murder of Steve McNair. The retired quarterback was one of the most inspirational team leaders in NFL history and, apparently, he also was a tragic knot of very human strengths and weaknesses. He was a devoted father and a serial philanderer, an inspiring humanitarian and a party animal who slept with a gun within reach of his pillow. He was an active churchman who was living a double life. He cops say he was executed, while he slept, by an angry 20-year-old girlfriend who then committed suicide. Many of his friends do not buy that story.
The Baltimore Sun feature on his death opens with a glimpse of the ghost:
When the floods came to Nashville in early May, Bishop Joseph Walker III immediately thought about Steve McNair. He knew what the former Tennesee Titans and Baltimore Ravens quarterback would have done to help the victims of his adopted city, where McNair had become as beloved for his compassion and generosity off the field as he had been for his competitiveness and grit on it.
As the torrential rains continued and the casualties mounted, Walker's momentary thoughts of McNair returned to reality. McNair wasn't there to help.
"He would been at the forefront, he would have called me and asked, 'What do we need to do?'" Walker, who was McNair's spiritual leader at the Mount Zion Baptist Church in a Nashville suburb, said recently. "As we were loading up trucks and bringing items to folks, I thought about Steve. He would have had diesels lined up with truckloads of stuff ready to go."
The man's pastor is, of course, as logical a voice as any to paint the big picture. Preachers, you see, are used to telling big stories and finding the moral threads that tie them together.
Thus, we read:
... Walker, who led McNair's memorial service in Nashville that attracted thousands, can now see the darker side to McNair and other athletes, including current Titans quarterback Vince Young, whom he has counseled.
"It is a dangerous prescription when you put seduction and stress and resources together. I often talk about 'PMS' in my ministry -- power, money and sex," Walker said. "Without proper mentorship, without proper accountability, without their willingness to submit to a mentor or a spiritual adviser, those kind of pressures that are upon them each day, each week, they are often caught in the illusion that this is their outlet. Sometimes those illusions can cost them their life."
Since the story opened with the voice of the pastor, it's logical that Walker returned to provide the final image -- which centered on a haunting text message from McNair.
Once again, this final passage offers a glimpse of a spiritual dimension in these events, as the preacher describes the restaurant that represented the quarterback's latest attempt to give something back to the community, a project that was going to offer jobs and support to those who needed it.
To my mind, this final quote also raises a giant journalistic question:
"He was so excited about it because it represented life after football," Walker said. "He asked [in the text message] 'Would you come and pray over my building?' What I remember of Steve is a person who had reconciled his personal demons and trying to make a significant change. I think he was really trying to get out and trying to turn things around. Unfortunately, it was too late."
Now, pastors, priests, rabbis and other clergy cannot talk about the confessions of the faithful that they counsel. Yet, I find it hard to belief that the pastor didn't offer any kind of overarching message, in this case, about, well, you know, uh -- sin. What else did this pastor have to say?
Walker seems to be suggesting that McNair was trying to return to the straight and narrow. If so, that is a very important fact in the story, a potential piece in the tragic puzzle. Was McNair repenting? Had he pledged to rededicate himself to his marriage? Did the pastor have anything whatsoever to say about the role of actual Christian faith in this drama?
It's haunting, isn't it? I cannot help but believe that large parts of what the pastor said are missing and, thus, we missed a chance to hear the ultimate moral of this sad, sad, sad story.