Nashville Community Attempts to Remember McNair in a Positive Light

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 11, 2009


This city has always kept its secrets well hidden, tucking imprudence away from the lights of music marquees, sequestering it behind closed doors.

Which is what makes what happened early in the morning of July 4 so disconcerting. A handgun discharged five times in the living room of a brick townhouse that morning, not far from the corner of Second Street and Lea Avenue. A local hero sat dead on a couch above a deceased 20-year-old woman, and the moment police opened the door private became very much public.

Suddenly Nashville had a difficult choice. It could mourn the death of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair, one of the city's first two great sports superstars.

Or it could confront the fact that the dead woman found at his feet was not his wife.

"It's not as easy as you think. You're in the middle of the Bible belt. There's a church on every corner in Nashville," said Roger May, a local attorney who has represented several local celebrities, including McNair after he was twice arrested on DUI charges that were eventually dropped. "It's not that everyone forgives his indiscretions."

Rather, the people of this city chose to focus on the good acts of McNair's life over the more ambiguous.

"They know it doesn't look great, but they're intelligent enough to look past that and see what he's about," said Frank Wycheck, a longtime teammate who now hosts a morning radio show in the city.

Rarely has there been an outpouring for an athlete's death quite like the one Nashville gave McNair this week. Certainly not for a retired player who never won a championship or made the Hall of Fame, though McNair, along with running back Eddie George, did lead the Titans to the Super Bowl following the 1999 season. McNair was just 36 when he died, and he hadn't been the Titans' quarterback since 2005, the year before he was traded to the Baltimore Ravens. His career had been over for two years. He was no longer the face of the franchise, but rather just a memory and a nameplate on the facade of LP Field, where the Titans play their games.

And yet for a week the city mourned. The restaurant, Steve McNair's Gridiron 9, that he opened across from the Tennessee State University campus just days before his death became a shrine where people, mostly strangers to him, came to write messages of farewell on the front of the locked glass doors and across the windows. And when the windows were filled, they wrote messages on cards, on photographs and on post-it notes and affixed them to the glass.

Perhaps the most poignant was the most simple. A white sheet of unfolded paper, taped to the window, upon which someone had scrawled the words: "Steve we forgive you."

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