Last week, NFL great Steve McNair was laid to rest. A man who led a charmed life as an athlete, making history, setting records, coming from an HBCU in this day and age and taking his NFL expansion team to the Super Bowl only to lose in grand style.
McNair was the truth on the field and apparently off, performing community service, mentoring young players like Vince Young, and was a mainstay at his son's football games. McNair seemingly never missed a game and could be seen on the sidelines every Friday during football season cheering on his boy.
The man, who had grown up poor and without a father in the household, made it his mission to be there for his sons and other young men -- like his brother Fred had been there for his four brothers and him. Even an arrest in 2003 for driving under the influence could not undermine his reputation. It was clear to most that he was a good guy who made a bad decision. As was customary on the field for him, McNair would learn from his mistakes and not commit them again.
The murder of Steve McNair sent shockwaves throughout the country. He was young, talented and in great shape. To learn that he was dead was incomprehensible to many because, as one of the toughest quarterbacks to ever set foot on the field, he had survived tremendous tackles and was known to play superbly, especially while nursing injuries.
According to reports, he was killed by Sahel Kazemi, his 20-year-old girlfriend, while sleeping. She shot him twice in the head and twice in the chest before turning the gun on herself. By some accounts McNair was happily married with four sons (two with his wife and two from previous relationships). His life was a classic American success story. With the help of his older brother, he had risen from poverty to super success on and off the field, so why would he risk it all for an orgasm?
McNair joined the ranks of many successful and powerful people who destroyed their lives and the lives of others through extramarital relationships. Some say that McNair had every right to be dating Kazemi because he may have been "separated" from his wife. Just because one is separated does not mean that he or she has the right to behave in a way that brings shame to his family. He or she is still legally married and should keep that in mind, particularly when young people, especially sons, are looking up to him. Gallivanting around town with a young waitress, with whom you're clearly playing, is not cool.
No, I'm not trying to judge McNair. People are full of contradictions, and you never know what's going on in marriages. In addition to the many wonderful things that people learned from McNair's life -- strength, integrity, focus and commitment -- they can also learn something from his tragic death.
Just because you can get away with something does not mean that you do it. How sad is it that the same qualities he possessed in his football and community endeavors did not apply to his romantic life. Imagine if he had approached love and romance with the same level of integrity, strength, commitment and focus to which he approached football? He could have been a champion off the field as well and that is the lesson in this tragedy.
Romantic relationships should not be any different than other relationships -- professional, spiritual or familial. As an adult, playing with people's emotions should be off the table. By the time you hit 36 years of age, you've seen all of the damage that this can cause, especially with young people. You've caused that kind of damage before and probably have been on the receiving end of it. Why continue to mistreat folks?
Kazemi's family stated that they had met McNair on multiple occasions and that he had promised that he would leave his wife in order to marry Sahel. McNair's family had never met Kazemi or heard of her. You don't need Greg Behrendt or Steve Harvey to tell you that if you're dating someone to the extent that they were dating each other -- for more than six months -- and you haven't met the family that lives in the same city, you will not be marrying that person. At best, you're the flavor of the month ... and at worst you're the jump-off.
It is sad when tragedies like this occur. Some say that McNair wasted his life by getting with this woman. But his life was not a waste and neither was hers because they have reminded us in life and death to put family first, and think more of ourselves and others.
I don't feel sorry for McNair or Kazemi. I feel sad for their families, particularly McNair's sons who must now permanently grow up without a father in the household, just like him.
Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is managing editor of TheLoop21.com. She is an assistant professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College and writes the blog Tune N (http://nsengaburton.wordpress.com), which examines popular culture through the lens of race, class, gender and sexuality.