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.
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.