The factors that led Steve McNair to be in “a dating relationship” with a 20-year-old woman while he was married could have been enhanced — or possibly brought on — by retirement.
That’s the assessment of Steven Ortiz, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University.
Although he has not looked specifically at the circumstances that led to McNair’s murder on July 4 at the hands of Sahel ‘Jenny’ Kazemi, who subsequently took her own life, Ortiz spent four years studying the marriages of professional athletes from the perspective of the wives and even longer interpreting and disseminating his findings.
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“Based on my research, I think many male professional athletes have a very difficult time transitioning out of their careers into other careers,” Ortiz said. “I had wives who told me their husbands behaved in ways that were completely contradictory to the way he used to behave during his career.
“… I think you’re looking at a transitional process as they disengage from a world that has identified them and defined them. They’re kind of lost. They’re disoriented. They’re not quite sure what to do,” he said. “They have to actually redefine themselves into a different identity into a role apart from that of the professional athlete.”
McNair retired from the NFL in 2007 after 11 seasons with two different franchises. He was a starting quarterback for all but the first two years of his career, earned multiple Pro Bowl selections and was the league’s co-MVP in 2003.
Last month, he opened a restaurant, Gridiron9, in Nashville. He also had coaching aspirations, according to Tennessee Titans’ coach Jeff Fisher who said he invited McNair to spend time with his staff during the upcoming training camp.
“When they do transition out of a career in professional sports they have to re-skill themselves somehow because they are no longer in demand as professional athletes,” Ortiz said. “Those skill sets aren’t mandatory anymore so they have to readjust and redefine themselves, develop a new identity. Some …will never make that transition.”
He added that, for some, being separated from the team dynamic could contribute to the challenge, or possibly generate greater struggles.
Teammates held McNair almost universally in high esteem for his selfness and the camaraderie he created.
“Many of these men were very close,” Ortiz said. “They were very close to their teammates. Their wives would tell me their teams were like a home away from home, a second family. Retirement issues can become a crisis in the lives of some professional athletes.”
The circumstances surrounding McNair’s death have raised a lot of questions about the state and the nature of his marriage. During their investigation of the murder, Metro Police learned that McNair may have been involved with one other woman in addition to his wife and Kazemi at the time of his death.
His widow, Mechelle McNair, has not spoken publicly and, through a spokesperson, she has requested privacy.
Ortiz, however, said that marriages involving professional athletes often function differently than those in which no one is in the public eye.
Through his research, he determined that what exists is a ‘fast food sex mentality’ — the prevalence of groupies and/or women who make themselves ‘sexually available’ to athletes. He ultimately concluded that a ‘culture of adultery’ exists within the professional sports world, which typically forces the wives to find ways to cope.
“After a period of months what occurred to me was the degree to which they normalize a lot of these issues and pressures and demands that you find in sport marriages and maybe do not find as much in other kinds of marriages,” Ortiz said. “In (some) ways it’s a very unique kind of marriage because you have a set of stresses and issues and concerns that other women in other marriages don’t have to deal with.
“I think there is an element of denial and some kinds coping strategies and (the idea that) ignorance is bliss.”