Former Qb Another Casualty Of Celebrity

July 07, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair left this world under tawdry circumstances, which might help some people come to grips with another senseless, violent death, but you know it's not as simple as somebody just being in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing.

Whatever his sins were, he has surely paid a greater price for them than most, which makes this less of a lesson in morality than another cautionary tale about the perils of wealth and fame.

Why do so many big-time athletes and big-time celebrities get themselves into situations that end tragically?

Because they can.

McNair is dead, at least in part, because he could afford to live an extravagant life and could not resist the temptations that come so easily at his level of public prominence.

Michael Jackson died recently from complications of being a pop superstar, his life spinning out of control because he could easily afford to feed his personal demons. Actor Heath Ledger reportedly unraveled under the pressure of his new stardom and a devastating romantic breakup. John F. Kennedy Jr. and John Denver died in their own personal aircraft. None of them intended to live fast and die young, but they had a much better chance of that happening than you do.

Of course, tragedy befalls regular people every day. Married guys have affairs that turn ugly and violent. Middle-class vacationers die in skiing accidents at Lake Tahoe, not just Sonny Bono. That stuff happens all the time and is just as sad as the loss of one of our favorite sports stars, but it's more likely to happen when you're retired at 36 years old with millions in the bank and a still-strong appetite for adventure in whatever form that might take.

No doubt, this particular scenario is more likely in a culture that obsesses over the rich and famous and winks at the extramarital peccadilloes of our favorite celebrities (and even a certain celebrity president), but that certainly doesn't take personal responsibility out of the equation. Don't get me wrong, fame is not a character flaw. It's more like a microscope that magnifies those personality traits - both good and bad - that push some celebrities to live on the edge.

There's a lot we don't yet know about what happened to McNair, but we do know that he had a wife, four kids and, apparently, a 20-year-old girlfriend. We also know he was a great football player who was loved and respected by his friends and teammates and who selflessly gave back to the community.

It's hoped his life will be viewed in its totality, since there are few among us who are really qualified to throw the first stone. It's hoped McNair's family and the family of Sahel Kazemi will be able to find some peace in the wake of this horrible, complicated personal disaster.

What will the rest of us take away from it?

Maybe nothing, since most of us cannot identify with what it was like to be Steve McNair. He was, by all accounts, a nice guy who loved football and played it with a toughness and intensity that few will ever match. He also was a very rich man who had realized most of his dreams at a very young age.

Plenty of other celebrities have found that fame and fortune buy more trouble than happiness, but McNair's death was more shocking than most because he seemed to have his feet so squarely on the ground.

He was a hero to millions of sports fans across the nation. He was a guy who appeared to have it all, and - for whatever reason - that wasn't enough when the cheering stopped and the adrenaline didn't. In other words, he was a flawed human, like everybody else.

I don't know which philosopher it was who first said this, but I think it's true:

The key to happiness is not having what you want. It's wanting what you have.

Listen to Peter Schmuck weeknights at 6 on WBAL (1090 AM) and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at

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