Tuesday, July 7, 2009
A Gentle Giant, Remembering Steve McNair
Life in Tennessee is different from my upbringing in Mississippi. That statement is not a criticism but to share my viewpoint is often shaped by my simple home training. I fight daily against pop culture’s idolization of individuals to keep myself and my kids grounded. I refuse to put anyone on a pedestal. People are people and their interactions with others speak louder than any publicist’s press release. Having worked in the PR field, I know this all too well.
My grandfather and my dad showed, by their actions, that fathers are providers and protectors of their families. Uncles from Chicago to Mississippi filled in the gaps along the way. The men in my family, though not always perfect, led by positive example. In turn, their example helped me to teach my children what was expected of them. One of the lessons I have taught my kids is to never worship anyone, especially stars and athletes..
My kids' love for their dad comes with much admiration and respect. Both grandfathers are active in their lives and they are surrounded by positive male role models. I seek out community “doers” to help mold them so they may learn firsthand; life is not all about them.
Coach Gilliam has been mentioned every day since they were tots. Something Coach said or did is repeated often. Coach’s influence is everywhere in our household; from my sons’ love of TSU to the Steelers’ memorabilia everywhere. When my oldest son went off to college, he had a solid curriculum of Coach Gilliam’s lessons taught to him by his dad. When he moved into his first apartment, to our surprise and delight, his neighbor was none other than the legendary Coach Gilliam. The stories of his youth came full circle. He became a Coach Gilliam story teller and started the second generation of Holmes that was impacted by Coach Gilliam. He is now Coach Holmes in graduate school passing on the stories of a living legend that he loves dearly.
Steve McNair is the only other person who passed my star/athlete litmus test with my family. McNair was considered “kin”, a transplant from Mississippi and an Alcorn (pronounced All-corn) graduate. In my extended family, ASU or JSU were the schools of choice. Only a few of us did not follow the pack. With Alcorn being only few miles from my home, I knew Alcorn like my kids know TSU. My mom, Dr. Stringer, taught at ASU for years. The SWAC was the NFL to me. Several relatives played ASU sports, so I know McNair’s bio like my kids know Joe Gilliam. McNair’s leadership and generosity was well known prior to him stepping into the NFL spotlight. Even after he became a huge star, he remained humble and without pretense.
I saw Steve McNair’s kindness without the filter of PR lenses. He visited Bethlehem Centers (BCN) to encourage the youth and wowed many young boys at his football camps in several states. Corn, my youngest son, attended his camps and was in awe that a NFL pro threw him the ball. Several McNair’s camp participants are now playing college football. Two years ago, McNair funded a summer program for BCN. To show the agency’s appreciation, Joyce Searcy asked me to take framed artwork by the kids to McNair. You would have thought I handed over a Grammy. He was gracious and I remember saying, “Joyce is ‘kin’, she’s from Miss.” Of course, he knew, since Joyce had no problem reminding McNair about their shared Mississippi connections.
When I became Founder/Chair of Minorities in Pest Management (MPM), I traveled often to raise money to award scholarships to get students involved in the lucrative but elusive pest control industry. My desire to help HBCUs’ students was usually met with opposition from the administrators of the schools and industry insiders. I mentioned my frustration to a friend who shared the info with McNair. Through his contacts, ASU got involved and several former ASU graduate students are now working in a field that usually overlooks minorities. MPM members requested him as a speaker year after year; not because he was a celebrity but because he showed an interest in MPM when industry folks thought we were crazy. McNair opened doors without asking for any recognition.
That was typical and classic McNair; his love for people was evident. When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the focus was New Orleans. But McNair reminded the world that Mississippi was devastated as well. He used his money to help fill twenty tractor trailers for family, friends, and communities in the Magnolia State. The Wolcotts, friends with hearts that matched McNair’s, sent out pleas on his behalf for help and volunteers responded in droves. From sunup to sundown, they stacked, sorted, and loaded trailers to send down I-55. I called home and told folks McNair’s Calvary was on its way. Within 48 hours, trailers brimming with much needed supplies were in Mississippi. When the USA Army could not get through, McNair’s generosity found a way.
The loss of McNair is overwhelming on so many levels. His life touched many lives every day. He was a bear with such an enormous heart. “Country strong,” my dad would say. McNair was flawed like all of us and his death was tragic, but his love for others will shine brightly. I could not allow this week to go by without expressing my thoughts about the gentle giant. God Bless you Mechelle and the kids. You are in my prayers.