Walking on Air (McNair)

Ben wearing his McNair jersey at Ravens Stadium

Ben wearing his McNair jersey at Ravens Stadium

During the recent spate of celebrity deaths, one hit my family harder than the others. No, not Billy Mays — we don’t own a salad shooter. Not even Michael Jackson — for my money his career peaked with the Jackson Five. It was Steve McNair, former Super Bowl quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans.

You see we’re huge Ravens fans in our family. It’s the only sports team we all agree on. Come game day you’ll find the Schencks decked out in purple from head to toe (literally — Bryna gave me a pair of Ravens socks last Christmas). Bryna — who has a thing for Ravens kicker Matt Stover — wears her Ravens fleece; I put on my Ray Lewis jersey (he was found innocentof that 2000 murder charge); and the boys don their Steve McNair #9 jerseys.

Ben and Zack’s awareness of and passion for Ravens football coincided with McNairs’ first year as the Ravens’ quarterback. And when you’re a kid who else will you attach yourself to if not the QB? So he quickly became the boys’ favorite player in 2006 when he led them to a 13-3 record. It helped that we went to a game in Baltimore that year watching McNair and the Ravens beat Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons in a dogfight (okay, bad analogy).mcnair

When we received news of McNair’s death Bryna and I were stunned. And it meant a difficult conversation with Ben and Zack — I didn’t want them to hear it on Sports Center. So I sat them down and told them I had some “news” for them. I told them that Steve McNair had died and they processed it by asking a lot of questions. There was little information at that time except for the detail that he’d been shot. We’ve continued to talk about how as a person he made some poor choices but that it didn’t diminish his greatness on the football field or the charity work he did off it.

Still, when your kids’ heroes are professional athletes these days, you ending up having lots of similar conversations. I had another one — not quite as dramatic — when Alex Rodriguez, one of their favorite players, admitted to taking steroids. I just keep trying to affirm the humanity of these guys even as we can respect what they do on the diamond or gridiron.

This all highlights the importance of parental involvement, other adult role models, and a community of faith in the lives of our children. If athletes and actors provide the sole path of enlightenment, we’re headed down a pretty dark corridor.

May Steve McNair, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays all rest in peace.


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