NASHVILLE, Tenn. – There are a year's worth of sermons and lessons that people could take from the death of Steve McNair(notes) at the hands of his unstable mistress. Mount Zion Baptist Church Bishop Joseph Walker III tried to deliver one of them during the memorial service for McNair at his church on Thursday night, saying, "The next time you write about Steve McNair, drop your stone," a reference to Jesus' quote about those without sin.
Walker went on with an emotional and enthusiastic 20-minute sermon that was "committed to this man's legacy." McNair, who was shot to death by his girlfriend Sahel Kazemi, was a great player and did wonderful charitable work, receiving an NFL Man of the Year nomination in 2005. Through his contributions to organizations such as Toys for Tots, the Boys & Girls Club and running football camps each summer that helped more than 8,000 mostly underprivileged children, McNair touched thousands of lives. He is, without question, the most prominent athlete in this city's history.
Former teammate Derrick Mason(notes), one of approximately 50 former teammates who attended the 2 ½-hour event, fought through his quavering emotions and thanked McNair for "allowing me to be a friend and be in your circle" and recounted how after every touchdown pass McNair would bump his fist to his chest twice and point to the sky to thank God.
Likewise, Titans coach Jeff Fisher talked about how McNair "touched lives beyond our imagination." Fisher remembered how in one game in 2000, when McNair hadn't started because of an injury but came in to throw a game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes, Fisher went up to McNair to congratulate him.
"Steve interrupted me and just pointed to the sky," said Fisher, who added that McNair had toyed with the idea of quitting because of his various injuries.
Approximately 4,500 attended the service. Fans remembered their brief-yet-warm encounters with McNair.
"In March, I was at a gas station and I was hurrying through," said Latrice Scruggs, 28, who brought her three children with her to the service. "I dropped my keys and he picked them up and said, 'Go ahead.' I didn't even realize who it was until the cashier looked at him and said, 'You're Steve McNair, right?'
"He was so down to earth about it, just walked around like an everyday Joe. He signed my receipt and he was so nice about it."
Or as Nashville resident Willie Rudolph put it: "This city is in mourning."
In the balance sheet of life, McNair's good deeds far exceeded his mistakes. But for all the warm memories of McNair, there is an obvious uneasiness to the final chapter of his story.
"The big elephant in the room," as Walker put it. Or as Mason put it, "We struggle with questions."
For all the cheers McNair created on and off the field, his death is shrouded in decadence. On Wednesday, police said Kazemi, 20, was driven to the murder-suicide by a combination of financial woes and jealous fear that McNair had another mistress.
The McNair story is so replete with tragedy that the sadness leaves you speechless.
"My wife and I were talking about it the other night," said Charles Donnell, another McNair fan. "If you're the pastor going to speak to his family, knowing what we know about what happened, what do you say? What do you say to his wife? To his sons? I can't even imagine."
McNair's wife Mechelle and four sons are left to grapple with much of the upheaval. The family, which refused to allow pictures of them to be taken during the service, issued a statement: "Today in our loss, our hurt, and our pain we recognize our gains in you our friends and loved ones. … They have all been a source of strength and comfort at this time to our family."
The rest of us are left to "struggle with questions."
How do you go from giving your heart and imagination to an athlete at one moment to forgiving his ugly public indiscretions the next? If you're a parent of a young child, what do you tell them about McNair?
One Pro Bowl player said early in the week "this is why we should all carry guns" before the cause of McNair's death was revealed. But it doesn't answer how a man who is so dedicated to his team, sport and community can also be so flawed as a husband.
One fan tried his best to grapple with the morality tale.
"I would tell my son it's about choices and consequences," said Rudolph, whose son is 3. "You choose to involve people in your life who aren't stable, you don't know what's going to happen."
- Steve McNair