In the days following Steve McNair's death, a lot of people have spent a lot of time trying to make sense of how he wound up a murder victim at the age of 36. That's led to musing about how McNair was living a double life, and how that will wind up tarnishing his legacy as a football player.
It would be naive to say that it won't play any role. Brian Billick, McNair's coach with the Ravens, said that an asterisk will always be attached to McNair's life story because of the way he died. It doesn't erase everything that came before, or shouldn't anyway, but it will always be part of the narrative.
It's equally naive, however, to think that you know everything there is to know about a public figure like McNair. It's right to say that McNair lived a double life, but only if you admit that everyone lives double or triple lives depending on how many worlds they straddle. It may be more instructive to just call them private lives, rather than using a prejorative phrase like "double life" which connotates a criminal or illegal element that isn't otherwise apparent.
Private lives tend to be messier than the ones we put forth to the world, whether or not we're famous. What's particularly troubling about this particular discussion is that it seems to be aimed at mitigating what happened to McNair. He was the victim of a crime, despite what Jason Whitlock believes.
Until the police wrap up their investigation, I'm only willing to acknowledge four victims — McNair's four sons. ...The kids, they're victims of two horrific crimes: 1. the murder of their father; 2. their father's apparent abandonment so that he had time to wine, dine, vacation and shack up with his jump-off.
Infidelity is not a good thing, but it isn't punishable by death and it isn't something that normally gets someone accused of living a sordid double life. If it were, we would be wondering about the legacies of hundreds -- heck, probably a majority -- of athletes.
Yet their athletic legacies remain untarnished by making similar mistakes to the one that McNair made. That's where all the discussion around McNair is misguided. His legacy as a football player has nothing to do with the way he died. Nor does it affect the good things he may have done via charitable work in the communites he called home in his career.
His legacy as a father, husband and friend may be at stake, but the public part of McNair's life ought to be the same as if he'd died of old age 60 years from now. And that's the only part of the legacy that should be of concern to the masses.
It's funny that we're even having this conversation at all, because you rarely hear about the legacies of accountants or nurses who die under similarly unseemly circumstances. Their families are content to remember them as they see fit, warts and all, without the higher standard we so often impose on people who gain a level of fame.
We don't know everything about someone's life because of how they spent their Sundays, nor do we know everything from a police report following their deaths.