Tuesday, July 07, 2009

American idols

Think all this stuff about heroes and role models is easy? Think again.

The curious case of Steve McNair raises all sorts of difficult questions along these lines. I just wonder how many others are wrestling with them.

As you no doubt know, McNair was murdered in Nashville on Saturday. A 20-year-old woman also died in the incident. The police there haven't ruled it one of those murder/suicide cases, but there's plenty of alleged evidence that seem to be pointing in that direction.

When word of McNair's death first came out, sports columnists rushed to pay tribute to him and his football career. The word that was most often used to describe his playing days was "warrior." He took a lot of hits during a long career, and always came back for more. McNair was a very good quarterback by any standard.

In addition, he was, by any definition, a prince in the community. The man personally loaded packages on to trucks that were headed to help the victims of Katrina in the Gulf region. McNair won several awards for his community work.

But, and this is a big but, McNair allegedly was having an affair with the 20-year-old woman in question. No one deserves to have this sort of fate after engaging in that sort of risky behavior, but the end result is a wife whose life has been absolutely shattered -- can she ever believe in anything again? -- and four children who will grow up without their father.

Some followers of this situation are comparmentalizing McNair's behavior, no doubt in different ways. Some will choose to remember McNair only for his good deeds and play, perhaps remembering the phrase that starts, "He who is without sin..." Others won't be so sympathic. I've seen both sides represented on Internet message boards, and they aren't happy with each other.

That "split decision" also applies to someone like Michael Jackson. His music thrilled millions, yet his behavior with children was sometimes inappropriate and revelations about his abuse of prescription drugs continue to come out now. And just to complicate matters, I got a lesson in perspective about Jackson from one of our college interns. He has little idea what all of the fuss is about Jackson's music, having not lived through it, but he knows all about the other stuff and is a little horrified by the reaction to Jackson's death.

And still, those looking for perfection in role models are going to have a long search. We expect family and personal friends to have flaws, sometimes major ones; why should celebrities be any different?

No doubt about it -- anyone thinking about putting up a poster of a celebrity on the wall has got some difficult decisions ahead.

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