Given the significant place that July 4 already occupies on the national calendar, it seems highly unlikely that date ever will evolve into any sort of day of mourning here in Middle Tennessee. Nor should it.
Eventually it will return to being simply the day this nation was born.
This particular July 4, however, was the first anniversary of Steve McNair’s death. It was too soon to forget what happened, and many paused for some sort of reflection.
Unlike the signing of the Declaration Of Independence, which was a clear-cut indicator that things were about to change, the murder of this town’s biggest pro sports star generated shock and dismay — and it brought about no substantive shift in the current culture.
There was hope in the days and weeks that followed that the annual fireworks display might also serve as a reminder of the red flags that were raised when the former Tennessee Titans quarterback was found shot to death in a downtown condo. Clearly, that is not the case — here or anywhere else. The prevailing mindset in the wake of all the tributes and memorial services is that McNair made a mistake, one that many others before him made and many others have made since. The only difference was the price he paid.
In the time since McNair’s murder, we’ve learned that Tiger Woods’ talents as a philanderer match his abilities on the golf course. Sandra Bullock was having the year of her life until it was revealed that her husband stepped outside their marriage.
Sports. Entertainment. Politics. It’s all celebrity, and it all thrives on the cult of personality that is so pervasive these days.
Sex is the fuel that powers that train. It’s what makes the wannabes feel like they have achieved their own bit of celebrity. It’s what makes the stars feel a certain power that is unattainable for much of normal society.
“You try to learn from everybody’s mistakes,” current Titans’ linebacker Jamie Winborn said. “[McNair] was only human, just like everybody else. Everybody has their faults, and I’m pretty sure that if you brought everybody’s skeletons out of the closet, things wouldn’t be the way they are.”
If anyone truly was affected by McNair’s death and the circumstances involved, it might have been the everyday folks in Nashville.
Nowhere in the United States is the approach to celebrity more properly proportionate than here. We don’t have paparazzi running around setting off flashes every time someone with a hit single belches after a beer. We allow some of the biggest names in the music and movie industry to move among us with virtually the same ease as a plumber or bank teller.
Until McNair, we mostly laughed at whatever personal failings might have come to light (think George Jones driving the tractor into town because his wife hid his car keys). Afterward, everyone had to acknowledge there is a dark side to celebrity.
A year later, the emotions we all experienced remain fairly fresh, although the steady stream of scandalous headlines has made that shocker seem like old news.
There’s more to come — years and celebrity missteps — and before long, July 4 will again be just another day to hold a picnic.