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Agendas Abound in Steve McNair Coverage

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Yesterday in this space, Spencer Hall pointed out that a few prominent sports blogs have taken advantage of the Steve McNair tragedy to engage in rank speculation about what happened. Prominent mainstream columnists have taken a mostly different tack: they're engaging in rank speculation about the deeper societal meanings of what happened. Sure, sports writers are people, too, and there's no permission slip required to write about society's stickiest issues, but is this really why we turn to the stick-and-ball section? To read pop-sociologist musings about America, inspired by a tragic death? ↵

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↵Example One: The Celebrity Lifestyle. ↵Peter Schmuck, for example, writing for the Tribune papers, had this to say: ↵

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↵⇥Whatever [McNair's] sins were, he has surely paid a greater price for them than most, which makes this less of a lesson in morality than another cautionary tale about the perils of wealth and fame. Why do so many big-time athletes and big-time celebrities get themselves into situations that end tragically? Because they can. ↵
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↵Schmuck went on to mention the deaths of Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, John F. Kennedy Jr. and John Denver, none of whom had before that point entered my mind as related to the McNair tragedy. Is there evidence that big-time athletes and big-time celebrities get themselves into situations that end tragically more than your average Wawa clerk? If so, I'd like to see it. ↵

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↵Example Two: The Football Lifestyle. Jay Mariotti, figuring that it's never too dated to make a Playmakers reference, had this to say: ↵

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↵⇥But if you looked closely enough, which his beloved fans in Nashville were reluctant to do, you'd have noticed danger signs. In 2003, he was pulled over by police who said he had a blood-alcohol content level of .18 percent, more than twice the state's legal limit. In the same episode, he faced charges of possessing a 9mm weapon. Mysteriously, all charges were dropped....
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↵⇥Years ago, ESPN ran a controversial series called "Playmakers," portraying the lives of players on a fictional football team. The subject matter was criticized roundly as too sensational -- steroids, cocaine, domestic abuse, homosexuality -- and the NFL put so much pressure on the network that the show was yanked. But a month rarely passes without NFL life imitating canceled TV, with Donte Stallworth killing a man while driving drunk and getting off with only 24 days in the slammer. That was revolting. ↵
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↵I guess one can only wonder why Mariotti didn't mention Plaxico Burress or Sean Taylor. Also, DUI is nasty as heck, but I'm not sure it's a danger sign about being murdered. ↵

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↵Example Three: The Gun Control Debate. Mike Lupica, for example, writing for the New York Daily News, had this to say: ↵

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↵⇥Now McNair dies the way he dies and shows you that a gun in the wrong hand is still the greatest equalizer of all....Where did the gun come from? Where it always comes from: Somewhere....There were so many wonderful statistics attached to McNair's career, the most important being the one Super Bowl, the four Pro Bowls to which he was selected, all the games he won. But the last was the only one that mattered. He is the 36th homicide victim in Nashville this year. That is down from 41 at the same time last year. Only in a country of gun lovers is that considered progress. ↵
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↵He's hardly the first sports writer to advocate for gun control, either. Look, people will always have strong feelings about the Second Amendment, and prominent shooting deaths will always bring that issue to the fore. Fine, let the editorialists editorialize, but can we keep that stuff out of Section D? People who already agree with Lupica aren't getting much out of this column, and people who disagree sure as sugar aren't changing their minds based on this. ↵

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↵Look, obviously McNair = page views for a lot of folks. If readers are talking about something, writers like to write about it. But sometimes a tragedy is just a tragedy, and doesn't necessarily come gift-wrapped with some larger meaning about modern American society. Being sad is enough. ↵

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↵For more of Dan Steinberg, visit his blog with The Washington Post, D.C. Sports Bog. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.