"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

An Empty Feeling

The first person that came to mind when I heard that Steve McNair was dead was his wife. And not just because he was found in a car with his mistress. It was because of an old episode of HBO Real Sports I recall watching. McNair’s wife talked about the anxiety she had watching her husband play hurt repeatedly over the years. She came across as loving and sympathetic.

Now this.

Yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Allen Barra had a nice, brief appreciation of McNair:

One of my mentors, Jerry Izenberg, who recently retired after more than half a century of sportswriting for the Newark Star-Ledger, offered me a nugget of wisdom: “If you’re in this business long enough,” he said, “you learn that if you’re a sportswriter — a serious, dedicated full-time newspaperman — then you don’t have a job. What you’ve got is a mistress.

“And mistresses make demands. You’ll pay for her one way or another. I paid her price in tons of coffee gulped on the run from plastic cups and in holidays spent away from my family while I was on the road. Mostly, though, I paid her price in loss of innocence through exposure to the evil side of sports in America.”

…There are some, for instance columnist Jay Mariotti of Fanhouse.com, to whom the circumstances of McNair’s death provide “a lesson to all of us about the differences between a façade and reality.” But McNair’s career was a reality, not a facade, and so were the hundreds of hours of commitment he gave to community service. The hours he and his wife spent loading food, water and clothes onto trucks for Hurricane Katrina victims (McNair himself arranged for the tractor trailers) and the three children’s football camps he personally paid for this year weren’t façades.

His death was a shock, and the manner of it cost me innocence I didn’t know I still had. But it didn’t take more from me than Steve McNair’s life and career gave back.

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1 Rich   ~  Jul 8, 2009 10:14 am

If the facts are as they appear, McNair's biggest shortcoming wasn't infidelity, it was misjudging the character/personality of a young woman who was apparently deeply distrurbed. Sadly, he paid a cruelly high price for that mistake.

2 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 8, 2009 10:15 am

I agree with the main thrust of Barra's column. It's absolutely ridiculous to hold sports figures up to such ridiculously high standards. Should McNair have been cheating on his wife? I guess not. That doesn’t make his death any less tragic. It almost seems as if some are implying that his death is less tragic because he isn’t the unfailing warrior he was often depicted as being. I think the media likes to create heroes so they can eventually tear them down. I guess that ensures two storylines.

I do bristle somewhat at Barra’s reference to thoughts of Izenberg on being a “serious, dedicated full-time newspaperman”. For some reason, the media continues to depict itself as some kind of special class. It isn’t only “journalists” whose jobs can be like a mistress. In fact, most hardworking people make sacrifices. Why Izenberg thinks he is any different from them is curious. Of course, we are talking about an industry that has spent an inordinate amount of time covering its own demise while jobs and industries covering all spectrums have gone by the wayside.

3 monkeypants   ~  Jul 8, 2009 10:27 am

[2] Is any really implying his death is less tragic? If anything, the mistress thing allows the story to be spun as MORE tragic--athlete and hero done in by sinful urges AND faithful housewife left husbandless by her husband's own infidelity.

No, I don't see anyone downplaying the tragedy. Rather, they they are playing up the cautionary tale/morality tale.

4 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 8, 2009 10:40 am

[3] I think the tone of some of the coverage has focused way too much on the fact that he may have been having an affair, and by doing so almost implied as if McNair put himself in the position to be murdered. I can't pinpoint one column or one report, but it is a general impression that I have picked up.

5 Shaun P.   ~  Jul 8, 2009 10:50 am

[2] I agree that big corporate media has a lot of problems covering itself - in particular, I'm thinking of a commentary I read yesterday concerning a certain online columnist recently fired by a major newspaper, but I won't say more so as not to cross the guidelines - but anyone who does a job for 50 years, in my book, can call themselves a "serious, dedicated full-time" whatever-they-are.

My impression is that Barra's relating of Izenberg's "mistress" line was not meant to suggest that only sportswriting/journalism could be a "mistress", but rather was a perfect segway to McNair's having an actual mistress. I'm sure if you asked Izenberg and Barra, both would say it could be true about any job one has for a long time.

Marriage ain't easy, either, but what could have possibly been going on that McNair was having an affair? I feel bad for his wife, because many will wonder, ''Why did he have an affair?", and she's the only one left to deal with that unanswerable question.

6 Rich   ~  Jul 8, 2009 10:52 am

Not that I'm pro-affair (I'm not), but they are only an offense against the spouse, so for anyone else to claim that they are wrong in another couple's marriage is offensively arrogant.

7 monkeypants   ~  Jul 8, 2009 11:07 am

[4] and by doing so almost implied as if McNair put himself in the position to be murdered.

But of course, on some level, he did.

[6] but they are only an offense against the spouse

That is a somewhat myopic view. I don't know if the McNairs had any, but surely an affair `can have a terrible impact on children. The sudden revelation that, say, a good friend is having an affair can also damage that friendship, because we are talking about a fundamental breech of confidence.

8 Rich   ~  Jul 8, 2009 11:16 am

[7] OK, the children too. But no one outside the family. I don't buy the friends aspect unless they are being asked to be co-conspirators in keeping a secret, but the same could be true if friends were trusted with the details of a pending business transaction. Affairs, like many other things, are part of constellation of character issues, like drinking, drugging, conspicuous consumption, etc., that friends can make a judgment about in choosing other friends, but the offense of infidelity is not against them.

9 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 8, 2009 11:18 am

[7] I was trying to be diplomatic, but my point was it seems as if some have implied "he got what he deserved". I could be way off base, but that's the impression I have gotten.

10 monkeypants   ~  Jul 8, 2009 11:24 am

[8] The offense may or may not be against the friend, but the friend suffers from the breech of trust. I have seen this happen personally, especially in situations where groups of couples are friends. The four of you go out, have a good time, share conversations, etc. Then it is revealed that one partner is having an affair. This implicitly puts pressure on the other couple to take sides. Moreover, in effect the unfaithful individual has been lying to his good friends, while leading some sort of a secret life. It's hard, as the friend, to just shake that off.

I would also posit that marriage is publicly observed (i.e. recognized by the state and, usually, whatever organization [e.g., church] also sanctioned it) and is thus a public, not private, "contract." Public vows are exchanged. Therefore, a violation against marriage is on some level a violation of public trust.

I actually believe this, but it is unnecessary to push the point. It seems pretty clear that the damaging effects of infidelity are felt beyond the individual whose spouse was unfaithful.

11 monkeypants   ~  Jul 8, 2009 11:31 am

[9] I don't know if he got what he deserved. Rather, I don't believe that he "deserved" to be killed as a punishment for infidelity, but this is I think besides the point. Let us assume that he did get what he deserved, or that this is the prevailing sentiment. Even so, that does not make his death un-tragic.

Look at it this way. I may think that a murderer deserves to be put to death. But I also think that the death is a tragedy; I think it is tragic whenever an individual's life is lost before its time, when his talents and potential are frittered away (or even turned against the common good).

So, yes, mourn McNair's death as a tragedy. Mourn too the death of his mistress. But let's not whitewash that he made what appears to be some pretty bad choices in this instance, choices that left a wife husbandless and (possibly) children fatherless.

12 Shaun P.   ~  Jul 8, 2009 11:33 am

[11] McNair had 4 sons, so yes, his kids are now fatherless. Poor kids.

13 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 8, 2009 11:38 am

[10] I agree.

[11] If he "deserved to be killed" then I definitelty think it makes the death less tragic. In fact, it would make it something to celebrate. In your example, the tragedy woudn't be the execution of the murder, but his decision to take innocent lives in the first place.

I definitely can't agree with you that that McNair made choices that left his children fatherless. While he did make a grave mistake, that doesn't mean he should have been killed, nor even suspected that he might be killed. Too often victims are blamed for putting themselves in the position of being victimized. This is such an instance, IMHO.

14 monkeypants   ~  Jul 8, 2009 11:53 am

[13] If he “deserved to be killed” then I definitelty think it makes the death less tragic. In fact, it would make it something to celebrate.

By this logic, a father should celebrate punishing his child, who deserves punishment for some transgression. I disagree.

Punishment (broadly speaking) may be just and/or deserved, but rarely should it be a moment of celebration. And when it comes to the loss of life, even the life of the "guilty," it is always tragic, IMHO.

Man, this is a bummer topic. I'd rather make fun of the Blue Jays in the other thread!

15 Rich   ~  Jul 8, 2009 11:53 am

[10] I view that as collateral damage because unlike with the spouse, and implicitly the kids, there has been no vow exchanged with friends. A lot of things make friends feel uncomfortable, like too much drinking or a drastic change in one's economic situation (either up or down). As with infidelity, either may be offensive, but none of them are an offense against the friend.

Invoking a breach of public trust is to embark on a slippery slope. If that's the standard, then a speeding ticket is also a violation since it is explicitly against the law. Unlike with infidelity, a speeding ticket also carries with it publicly imposed loss of property (i.e., a fine). Is that an offense against our friends as well?

Churches, and in turn, religion, also condemn lying. But few among us have never told a lie, be it large or small, whether it be for good or less good reasons.

So we can stretch the point beyond its logical limits in any direction for the sake of argument, but the point remains that there is something unique (and to some even sacred) contained in the marriage vows. All of which underscores the fact that the family unit is unique in comparison to any other relationship, and as a result, so is the trust and commitment that flow from it.

16 monkeypants   ~  Jul 8, 2009 12:06 pm

[15] Is that an offense against our friends as well?

Of course not, because me speeding is in no way a breech of my friend's trust. Lying to him--explicitly or implicitly--as one does when one has an affair, does however breech that trust.

Yes, most everyone has told lies. I'm not sure how that furthers your point. In terms of scale, infidelity is a lie writ large. This isn't telling your neighbor his haircut looks nice. Infidelity is an ongoing lie, usually further by a whole battery of smaller lies to both family and friends. It is a fundamental misrepresentation of self. If lies are bad, then infidelity is real bad.

As for the notion of collateral damage--it is, well, still damage. I suggest that infidelity (unlike speeding, to use your counter-example) is very much not a "smart bomb," but rather explodes with a great deal of collateral damage. As such, it is flawed to say that the offense is victimless save the explicit "target" (the spouse).

17 Rich   ~  Jul 8, 2009 12:21 pm

[16] Really? Part of my trust in my friends is that they are law abiding citizens.

There isn't necessarily an implicit breach of trust with a friend when a person has an affair. Many people couldn't care less if their friends cheat, often because they don't like the other spouse and if they are no children, the damage is often minimal, if any. Alternatively, affairs can sometimes save a marriage by giving one or both spouses the illusion of freedom or by merely letting them sample a different "fruit." Who is any of us to impose our values on another person?

So while you may be right in some cases, and maybe even most, I think you are painting with far too broad a brush.

Again, you may view infidelity as a worse sin than other transgressions, but that doesn't mean that everyone shares that view. For example, some people may hate tax cheats more than they hate adulterers. It's a matter of values. I would also note that an affair does not have to be ongoing. it can be a one night stand.

Not every affair becomes public, so there is not necessarily collateral damage.

I hold a live and let live mentality. I guess not everyone feels that way. I understand that. You seem to have a far more rigid viewpoint.

(I have a meeting. I'll check in later.)

18 williamnyy23   ~  Jul 8, 2009 12:26 pm

[14] I don’t think you can extend penalty by death to the punishment of a child. It isn’t a logical comparison, again IMHO. Punishment by death is something so severe that it should only be employed in cases when doing so rids the world of a great threat, thereby making it a cause for celebration. Let’s call it a “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” scenario.

I do agree that this is a depressing topic. While an interesting jumping board for sharing thoughts, it isn’t exactly a fun point to debate.

19 RagingTartabull   ~  Jul 8, 2009 1:19 pm

I think Jay Mariotti's writing ability is a facade, so there.

20 The Hawk   ~  Jul 8, 2009 3:10 pm

You guys are nuts

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver