Steve McNair's famous face becomes just another victim of American gun culture
Monday, July 6th 2009, 4:00 AM
Gojkovich/Getty Steve McNair put up Pro Bowl numbers during his illustrious career but became just another statistic of nation's troubling gun violence.
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Steve McNair, dead by gun now in America, came out of Mount Olive, Miss., whose population still came up short of 1,000 when McNair made it to the Super Bowl with the Tennessee Titans in January 2000.
When I called the town hall that year, I asked the woman who answered the phone how long downtown was in Mount Olive.
"Eight blocks," she said. "Ten if you stretch it."
When I asked her about the biggest intersection in town, she said that the biggest intersection wasn't even in town.
"Biggest intersection in Mount Olive," she said, "is where [State Road] 35 meets [U.S.] 49."
But McNair made it out of there to become a Heisman Trophy candidate, even from a small school like Alcorn State; made it from there to the Titans, and eventually to the Rams' 1-yard line at the end of a Super Bowl game in Atlanta. McNair took his team down the field when it had a chance to upset the Rams and threw a ball to Kevin Dyson and Dyson ended up a yard short as time ran out, ended up a yard short of being a Super Bowl champion the way McNair did.
He was still as tough as anybody who ever played quarterback in the National Football League, famous for playing hurt, sitting out practices for months at a time just so he could play on Sunday. Finally, there was the Super Sunday when he nearly became one of those quarterbacks to take his team all the way down the field at the end, the way Eli Manning did one time for the Giants.
McNair's life and his career were all about the possibilities of sports and the country. He showed everybody that you could come from Mount Olive and a small college and if you had the talent and character and even heart, you had the same equal opportunities as anybody else.
Now McNair dies the way he dies and shows you that a gun in the wrong hand is still the greatest equalizer of all.
He came from the Friday night lights of John Brewer Field to being the kind of football star and sports celebrity he became in Nashville. Now he dies in a Nashville condominium with a 20-year-old woman not his wife, multiple gunshot wounds, one to the head, the young woman dead there next to him.
The gun was found next to the woman, Sahel Kazemi. Where did the gun come from? Where it always comes from: Somewhere.
Once I asked one of McNair's high school coaches, a man named Madison Magee, what the next biggest thing was to happen in Mount Olive after Steve McNair and the man said, "Nothin'."
He bought a big spread for his mother there, a 600-acre ranch, made millions playing pro football, even if he had to quit younger than a lot of other quarterbacks because he was just too beat up, like a fighter who took too many punches. Even after he stopped playing he was a big guy in Nashville. This weekend he was famous again, this time as a crime statistic, homicide victim, dead by gun.
This was a spectacular weekend for sports, in tennis especially. Sunday, Roger Federer and Andy Roddick played one of the great matches of all time at Wimbledon, with Federer winning 16-14 in the fifth set. The day before, Serena and Venus Williams had played against each other in another Wimbledon final, Serena winning this time.
The Williams sisters came to another moment like this from public courts in Compton, Calif. Six years ago, their oldest sister, Yetunde, was shot dead while sitting in a white SUV on Greenleaf Blvd. in Compton. The Williams sisters have always shown that even in a white, country-club sport like tennis, anything is possible. They are as famous around the world as McNair was in football and it did nothing to save their sister when bullets started flying one night in Compton.
This time they started flying on Second Ave. in Nashville. According to the The Tennessean newspaper, McNair had a permit to carry a handgun. The weapon found next to the bodies was a semiautomatic.
There were so many wonderful statistics attached to McNair's career, the most important being the one Super Bowl, the four Pro Bowls to which he was selected, all the games he won. But the last was the only one that mattered. He is the 36th homicide victim in Nashville this year. That is down from 41 at the same time last year.
Only in a country of gun lovers is that considered progress.