Out of respect for the dead, I’ve held off until now on the subject of Steve McNair. But I think an important point has been missed in the discussion, and I’d like to get it out on the table.
McNair, as you probably know, was a successful NFL quarterback for thirteen seasons with the Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens before retiring last year. Since then, he’d been working on building his post-playing career. He was running a restaurant in Nashville and had a farm in his native Mississippi, pretty much out of the public eye.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all he was working on, and he didn’t stay out of the public eye – if he had, a lot of people would be a lot better off. And I would be writing about something else today.
Instead, we all got the news on the Fourth of July – McNair’s body, with four bullet holes in it, had been found in it in a condo he owned in Nashville. Also found there was the body of a 20-year-old woman named Sahel Kazemi, with a bullet hole in her head and a gun pointed at her temple. While the police ran tests and interviewed people to get to the bottom of things, speculation ran rampant over the next day or two over what had happened to McNair and Kazemi.
Which struck me as very odd, since I, with no police or forensic background – heck, I don’t even watch those “CSI” shows – saw the news story and immediately went, “murder-suicide, bet she was a jealous mistress.” Which turned out to be precisely the case. Took the cops several days to prove it, but the Supermodel and I were pretty sure of it within five minutes of seeing the first news story. It’s not that we’re so brilliant or insightful; it’s just that this sort of thing happens a lot, even though it doesn’t usually lead to gunplay.
Let’s face it – public figures caught with women (or men) other than the ones to which they’re married are so common these days that those who aren’t are considered unusually righteous. If it’s not a football or basketball player with several kids by several different women, it’s a “family values” governor flying to South America to be with his current bedmate, or a prominent evangelical pastor soliciting services from a gigolo. Nowadays, “adultery among the rich and famous” is probably second only to “conflict in the Middle East” in terms of news air time or column space. It’s like an epidemic.
But then, it’s always been fairly common – I suspect what has changed is not the frequency of the cheating, but the amount of attention that has been focused on it. Take, for instance, Bill Clinton (please!) and his dalliances with Mlles. Flowers, Lewinsky, et al. that led to much public ridicule and an impeachment hearing before the U.S. Senate. Many people were screaming to the hills about how heinous it was that the Commander-in-Chief and Leader of the Free World was acting with such disregard toward his marriage vows, and how could he be trusted to deal in good faith with the country when he couldn’t even be trusted by his wife, etc., etc.
(Warning: starting here, I’ll be talking pretty bluntly, maybe even graphically. If that sort of thing really bothers you, you may want to bail out.)
Now, I think to this day that what Slick Willie did was horrible and stupid and frankly sinful, and that Hillary should’ve not only divorced him, but possibly neutered him. But if you study your history, you’ll find that one thing it wasn’t was unusual. Look at some previous presidents. John F. Kennedy cheated on Jackie with everyone from Marilyn Monroe to random waitresses, and apparently had a prostitute brought to his room less than an hour before his famous 1960 debate with Richard Nixon. (Senator George Smathers once said that JFK had “the most active libido of any man I’ve ever seen” – and Smathers was one of Kennedy’s friends!) Dwight Eisenhower had an affair with his secretary during his first term in the White House. FDR’s extramarital activity, even after he contracted polio, so fed up Eleanor that they slept in different beds for the last sixteen years of his life. There are still rumors that Warren Harding died in office because his wife poisoned him over his various infidelities. Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson (Woodrow Wilson?!? Really?) were dogged by reports of cheating, and Grover Cleveland had to admit in mid-campaign to fathering a child out of wedlock. That’s all off the top of my head – there are probably a dozen more I could find in a few hours of research. Clinton’s actions may have been disgusting, but among his predecessors in office, they don’t exactly stand out. And that’s just U.S. presidents; start looking at European royal families and we could be here all day.
Likewise with athletes. McNair having a girlfriend who was not his wife (nor one of his two earlier baby-mamas) hardly made him stand out in the pro sports fraternity, present or past. Think of the long lists of kids fathered by boxer Evander Holyfield or basketball star Shawn Kemp in the 1990s. Or the stories of one-night stands and woman-chasing in such books as Ball Four (published in 1970) and Instant Replay (1968). It was well known in Babe Ruth’s day that the “Sultan of Swat” didn’t take his marriage vows very seriously; Marvin Miller, onetime head of the baseball players’ union, has said he knew as a child about Ruth’s wanderings. I remember reading a story once involving the murder/suicide of a minor-league baseball player and the wife of a league president, very similar to the McNair incident. Know when it took place? 1894. I kid you not. This has been happening for a long time. I’m not condoning this for a moment, you understand – I’m just saying that it’s foolish to treat it as if it were new or rare, because it’s neither.
What is new is not the inability of prominent men (and women – though the examples are fewer, or at least less publicized) to keep their knickers in place, but the public’s expectations that they do so. I think Gary Hart was the turning point, at least here in America. One underreported aspect of the Hart/Donna Rice imbroglio back in 1987 was that most political reporters in the Washington, D.C. area knew that Hart was stepping out on his wife with some regularity. It was two Miami reporters who decided to stake out Hart’s yacht (christened Monkey Business, flagrantly enough) and broke the story. Before then, affairs among political figures went unreported – it wasn’t considered anybody’s business what they did in their off-hours. Since then, the gloves have been off.
And all in all, I think that might be a good thing. People are in general more likely to behave themselves when they know that a) people are watching, and b) they will be publicly shamed if they screw up. This has been shown to work, whether it’s stores deterring shoplifting or police stings to crack down on prostitution. Sometimes things gets taken too far – the recent suspension of a hockey player for making a mildly insulting comment about an ex-girlfriend struck me as draconian – but overall I expect that it should have an impact, and maybe already has. Who knows how many ballplayers, actors, rockers and pols have held off on having a fling because they didn’t want to end up on the cover of US Magazine? The old athlete’s line about how if you can hit the curveball, you can get away with murder is becoming less applicable every year.
And if that isn’t enough of a deterrent, maybe the sad – and widely-reported – fate of Steve McNair will scare some folks straight. It’s bad enough knowing that your little extramarital party could end up on the cover of the local paper or, far worse, in the chambers of your local divorce court. It’s quite another thing to consider that the “other woman” could show up at your condo packing heat. (Reportedly Kazemi’s rationale was that McNair was avoiding her and taking up with a different girlfriend.) As bad as alimony payments and getting yelled at by Skip Bayless are, they’re not nearly as rough on you as “sudden-onset lead poisoning” can be.
(Okay, now I’m going to get really blunt. Hold onto your chairs …)
So I have a solution for avoiding the fate of Mr. McNair, not to mention many of the other poor slobs you see on the covers of magazines at the supermarket checkout counter. It’s a simple solution, maybe difficult to apply in certain situations but, I believe, worth it in the long run. For all of you tempted to go seeking sexual fulfillment in locations other than your marriage bed, but who don’t want all the trouble I’ve outlined above, here’s my advice:
KEEP YA ZIPPER UP!
You may want to read that over a few times, so you don’t miss the subtleties involved.
If you follow this advice, I can guarantee that you won’t have to worry about your infidelities being splattered across the various news and gossip networks, because you won’t have any infidelities to splatter. You won’t have to deal with sexually transmitted diseases either (as long as your spouse also follows this advice), or paternity suits, or jealous lovers threatening you or your family. Not to mention avoiding all the stress, suspicion and broken hearts that adultery brings in its wake. All of these difficulties can be eliminated and kept from one’s life by the simple expedient of keeping ya zipper up, with anyone but the person you’re pledged to spend your life with.
Even then, if the urge to go somewhere other than to one’s spouse is so uncontrollable that one cannot stop oneself from straying, there is something you can do. Look at your arms. At the end of each one is a thing called a “hand.” Use that. Am I advocating this as opposed to a loving relationship with your husband or wife? Of course not. Do I believe it’s a sin to take this route? Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. But it’s a sin that most likely won’t cause you to die of gunshot wounds, and that alone strikes me as an improvement. All I’m saying is that if you’re really determined to go against God’s law, it’s a good idea to go against it in a way that won’t get you killed. Just saying.
So if you don’t want to end up like Steve McNair – six feet under after dying in a painful and messy manner, leaving behind a grieving widow and four children who are all now the butt of their peers’ jokes – that’s my advice. Keep ya zipper up, and if you can’t manage to do that, at least only take it down when you’re by yourself. Not complicated, but I think, effective.
If you do want to end up like Steve McNair … egads, please seek professional help.