In honor of the Super Bowl, we will acknowledge a QB who played in the Super Bowl and can’t watch the Super Bowl in this week’s edition of Homicide Brides.
Steve McNair was in my recent piece about African American QBs making history. Steve was the second black QB to play in the Super Bowl in 1999. Unfortunately, his athletic prowess couldn’t save him from the wrath of a woman scorned.
Last week’s Homicide Brides article focused on Jovan Belcher taking the life of his significant other and then his own. McNair found himself in a similar, but opposite, situation.
Who was involved?
Steve McNair was born on Valentine’s Day in 1973, at Mount Olive, Mississippi, to parents Selma and Lucille McNair. Steve was one of the couple’s five boys. Mr. McNair left the family when Steve was little, leaving Lucille to raise her family, scraping by financially as a factory worker.
Steve McNair’s oldest brother, Fred, was the surrogate father of the home and taught Steve everything he knew about sports. He was the original “Air McNair.” Lucille taught all of her sons values – value education, loyalty, fairness, and a strong work ethic.
McNair took his mother’s lessons to heart – he was extremely talented as a multi-sport athlete in high school, but he also had perseverance and commitment to work. That dedication to his craft resulted in offers from the Seattle Mariners baseball team, basketball teams, and many colleges for football.
Many heavyweight colleges recruited Steve but would only consider him as a defensive back. McNair would accept nothing less than being signed on as a Quarterback. This sentiment is echoed by many black QBs attempting to stay one, such as Michael Vick, and the QB position remains predominantly white to this day.
Steve McNair guaranteed his role as Quarterback when he chose to attend an HBCU – Alcorn State. By not attending an A-I school, McNair knew he almost certainly would not win the Heisman, and his chances of entering the NFL were hindered.
Steve needn’t have worried, however. He was the third overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft, signed on by the Houston Oilers. McNair was given a 7-year contract and was the Oiler’s highest-paid player. Unlike the rookies of the 2020s being thrust into the starting positions seconds after becoming an NFL player, McNair’s career was carefully curated, learning from a more experienced QB in Chris Chandler and adjusting to the differences between being a College Ball QB versus an NFL one.
In his 3rd year, Steve McNair became the starting quarterback and had the second-best overall rating of QBs drafted from 1989 to 1995. The Houston Oilers, now known as the Tennessee Titans, saw what they had in Steve and offered him a 6-year extension. He was co-MVP with Peyton Manning in 2003. Steve would play with the Titans until 2005.
Injury shortened McNair’s career significantly. Steve was known for playing through them and was described as not feeling pain. In 1999, McNair had back surgery mid-season and returned by the playoffs. He couldn’t sit for more than 15 minutes at a time, and had to be helped off the team’s plane but he would play like he was uninjured during games.
Lucille McNair may have understood loyalty, but the Titans didn’t. The team literally locked Steve out of their headquarters to rehab because an injury meant the team would have to dish out over 23 million. This violated his contract and created a rift. McNair would play with the Baltimore Ravens until 2007 – injury ended his career, as he said his phone was off the hook.
In the most confusing DUI arrest in history, Steve McNair was arrested for a DUI by consent in 2007, meaning he was a passenger in the vehicle of someone driving drunk. The charges were eventually dropped.
Steve had been married to his wife Mechelle since 1997, dating when they were both at Alcorn State. He had two sons with his wife, Tyler and Trenton McNair, and two sons with two separate women before his marriage: Steve LaTreal McNair Jr., and Steven O’Brian McNair.
Steve McNair’s cousin is Demario Davis, the Saints Linebacker and the 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for New Orleans.
His life would end on the 4th of July in 2009 at the hands of a girlfriend. Her name was Sahel Kazemi.
Sahel was born in Tehran, Iran, to her mother Ghodsyeh Kazemi. No information is available on her father. Sahel was one of five children, including her sisters Azadeh and Soheyla. During a visit with Soheyla Kazemi, Sahel’s mother took the 9-year-old with her. Sahel didn’t want to stop playing at her sister’s house, so Ghodsyeh returned home alone and was murdered in a home robbery.
The Kazemi family was a member of a minority religion, the Baha’i faith. Because they were not Muslim, the Iranian police did not investigate Ghodsyeh’s death at all. Azedeh was moving to Australia to attend University, and Sahel and her mother were supposed to come with her – their bags were packed.
Sahel was described as a carefree tom-boy unbothered by things, rattled by little, including her mother’s death. She would often be there to listen to family vent but seemed to have very little to express in return.
Sahel immigrated first to Turkey and then to the US in 2002 when she was 13 years old. She lived in Jacksonville, Florida, with her older sister Soheyla. Sahel acclimated to American culture quickly and became trilingual – she spoke Farsi, Turkish, and English. Kazemi was bullied in school and struggled to fit in. She also had behavioral problems in high school.
Sahel dropped out of high school at 16 and moved out of state with her new boyfriend, Keith.
Sahel died at age 20, so her “adulthood” that began at age 16 was short-lived. In Nashville, she got a full-time job working at Dave and Buster’s, loving financial independence and making the best of her job with her bubbly personality and sense of humor. Kazemi mostly went out, worked, and had fun dating casually.
Local athletes would visit that particular Dave and Busters often, which the employees loved, due to large tips. Tennessee Titans were great tippers, and Steve McNair was one of the best. Steve would meet Sahel in December of 2008, and despite not being quick to awe over a famous football player, she did seem to get stuck on McNair.
A girl who always seemed to drop her life for the next guy, Sahel slowly relied more and more on Steve fiscally, no longer valuing her financial independence to the same degree, and didn’t have aspirations for the future. At this point, it was all things Steve.
Kazemi saw another woman leave the condo that McNair rented in Nashville in June. Despite knowing that she was a part of an extramarital affair, the idea of Steve being with more than just her and Mechelle was too much for Sahel. She was hurt, and she was stressed. The two cheated on each other, Kazemi saw many other men that summer, and Steve was Steving. Sahel couldn’t get over McNair, though; he lived rent-free in her mind.
And then July happened. On the 2nd, Sahel was pulled over for driving drunk with Steve in the passenger seat, and the chef of the restaurant, Gridiron9, Steve’s business, was in the back seat. Steve taxied off with the chef, leaving Kazemi even though she begged to talk to him from the back of a police car. McNair did bail out Sahel, and as soon as she was out of the slammer, she obtained a firearm from a convicted murderer and her on-and-off boyfriend, Keith Norfleet.
And then she snapped
Things began unraveling on the 3rd. Sahel and Steve were texting back and forth romantic things to each other. Kazemi also told Steve that she was on the verge of a breakdown and was stressed by bills. McNair transferred her 2,000 dollars.
Friends reported that she had reached out and made plans for the 4th, and no one reported concern. Her co-workers did note that she was extremely overwhelmed that day, and Sahel said her life was horrible and thought she should end it.
Sahel was originally going to go out with a friend on the evening of the 3rd, but her friend was out of town. She decided she would just hang out with Steve instead. Kazemi told McNair she had to see him that night and that her chest felt heavy. He would come at 11 PM after tucking his children into bed. Her constant phone calls wouldn’t allow for much else.
McNair’s friends, Wayne Neely and Robert Gaddy would find Steve and Sahel no longer alive on the couch in his condo and call 911. They walked in on their friend, who appeared to be sleeping on the couch when he died, with four bullet wounds in his body, one of which was from less than three feet away. Sitting next to his body was Kazemi with one bullet wound in her temple with the firearm behind her head with gunshot residue on her left hand.
What seemed like an open and shut case was actually shrouded in controversy. The police stand by their findings confidently, but interestingly, it took them five months to close the investigation. The motive was declared as growing anxiety over financial concerns and anger over a possible additional extra-marital affair. Sahel wanted to be the only girlfriend of a married man.
Former police officer, Vincent Hill, would spend his evening pouring over the police reports written about the incident. One week after the tragic incident, he contacted Sahel’s family via Facebook, telling them he did not believe Kazemi was responsible for either death.
Vincent found unusual things in those police records. Hill alluded to a robbery, due to Steve having just $6 in his pocket, despite “feeling broke” if he had less than a few thousand in his pocket. The man, Keith Norfleet, who allegedly sold Kazemi the firearm had an inconsistent story regarding his alibi, history of a romantic relationship with Sahel, and is currently in prison for fire-arm-related offenses. Neely also waited 45 minutes and called three other friends before alerting 911 to his friend’s death.
The police department would respond to Hill’s allegations by sharing his personnel file, which was over 100 pages long during his 4-year career in the force. He had had many disciplinary infractions and reprimands. Hill said he resigned because he wanted a job that would fit his family’s needs better schedule-wise.
Vincent was able to share his findings in a grand jury hearing, and they decided there was not enough evidence to reopen the case. Hill, the Kazemi family, and Steve McNair Jr.’s mother still suspect that Sahel did not commit the crime.
Get your tinfoil hat for this one – rumor has it that a woman had told McNair he had roofied her the prior year, and her boyfriend was going to take Steve out. A friend of Norfleet allegedly made a MySpace post about
taking the life of Kazemi and McNair (who else had a flashback from the past when MySpace came up?).
Keith also had rap lyrics that some people felt might have been referring to the crime – and we all know that that is an effective form of communication to read into (is Tupac alive, or is he not???).
The finger was also pointed at Mechelle McNair (there’s no supporting evidence for this, and the police cleared her). It’s not totally surprising to see that as a significant other is often responsible for the demise of their spouse, especially when cheating, but often isn’t every time, and it is hurtful to spread a false narrative because of statistics and stereotypes.
The controversy didn’t die there
Steve McNair didn’t plan on dying at age 36, so he had drafted a few wills but never made an official one. In my not legal advice – if you have four children with three different women – sort that estate out because things can get dicey. This is a cautionary tale.
Steve was a millionaire when he passed. His estate got frozen up in court, and his widow was able to petition for money to cover his children’s care – all four. Mechelle McNair hired a probate lawyer, won in court, and became the administrator of his estate.
In what feels like a smarmy move, Mrs. McNair listed her and her two sons as beneficiaries initially because she wasn’t sure of the paternity of his other two sons. An exceedingly unkind thing to do to Steve’s first two children, who had just lost their father.
The Mississippi Courts weren’t having it – Mechelle was ordered to pay child support for both boys. They were also listed as heirs of his estate at a later date. There were unsubstantiated claims that Steve McNair had a daughter; the mother came out of the word works when his estate was being settled. He must not have been the father because nothing came from these claims despite the mention of future paternity tests.
Besides filling the pockets of many attorneys, this tragic double death had far-reaching consequences beyond money.
In the aftermath of this horrible incident, the Kazemi family received threats, many filled with racism surrounding Sahel’s country of origin. The judgment and the feeling of the need to defend their loved one have been a struggle for the family.
The Kazemi family lost their loved one, and they miss her even if she was wrong. Friends would come together for a candlelight vigil for Sahel – remembering her hopes and dreams and telling stories about their friend, as shocked by the event as everyone else in her life was.
Steve McNair’s loved ones
Mechelle McNair dedicated her life to raising her children, who were 10 and 5, at the time of his death. She was a homebody, set on keeping her boys safe. She is glad her son’s last memory of their dad was fond – he went fishing with his boys. They begged him not to go that fateful night, but he did anyway, kissing them both goodnight.
Mechelle woke up to a pounding headache, looking for her husband, possibly an early “sign” that something wasn’t right, like a part of her already knew. Her mother, whom Steve had invited to live with the couple and their children after her husband’s death, saw the report on the news and alerted Mechelle. It was all conjecture at this point – could it possibly be true?
Mrs. McNair didn’t know about Sehal. It took a moment for her to wrap her mind around the news. McNair’s 10-year-old son was old enough to understand the information, the media focus on his father, and all the horrible things people were saying. He ran to the kitchen and grabbed a knife, saying he didn’t want to live anymore; he couldn’t live without his daddy. Mechelle wrestled the knife from him – she was going to keep her boys safe.
Mechelle struggled with the news, the constant requests for interviews, and staying elegant and classy despite being the widow of a man who repeatedly cheated on her behind her back. She made it clear she felt some type of way about that, but that bitterness was not the look for her. She remembers Steve as being a good father and a good husband. We often discuss in Homicide Brides that people are multi-dimensional and capable of being good people who do bad things simultaneously.
The murder of Steve McNair had unspeakable consequences on his immediate family, but it went much further.
His friend, the chef, lost his job – Steve’s restaurant closed and never reopened. The chef was harassed by the media to the point of having to relocate and hiding out from the press. He declined an interview. McNair’s friend who found him, Wayne Neely, quit his job of 18 years and turned into a recluse, hiding from the media and everyone else.
The mother of Steve McNair Jr. said he had struggled emotionally – he had just been getting quality time with his father. Besides his name, Steve Jr. also got his father’s athletic talents, and sounded, and looked just like him. He felt he had to live up to his father’s legacy or in some way, continue it. The pressure was on.
In another metaphorical spit to the face, Steve Jr. and Steven were not invited to the Tennessee Titan Jersey retirement ceremony. We get it, their mothers were not married to Steve McNair, but they’re as much a son as any other.
The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens made statements, and a two-day memorial was held for Steve at the stadium. The entire Titans team honored Steve McNair by wearing a #9 sticker on the back of their helmets all 2009 season.
Steve touched many lives – his funeral was attended by more than 5,000 people who loved and missed him.
Steve McNair’s legacy (youngest to oldest)
Tyler has used his dad’s athletic talents and his 6’4′ height to be a basketball player, a model, a dancer, and a choreographer extraordinaire.
Trenton is also 6’4′ and is a basketball star. He graduated from high school in 2022 and is trying to figure out next steps like all young adults. He has received some basketball offers from colleges.
Little is known about Steven other than he is outspoken about being cut out of his father’s legacy. Wow, reporters must have had to dig deep for that one.
Steve McNair Jr.
So far, Steve Jr. was the only son to carry on the football legacy. He was a Senior in high school when his father passed, and it was a hard time for him. Although he committed to playing for Southern Mississippi, he ultimately was a wide receiver at Pearl River Community College. His career appears to have ended there. Steve Jr. is a father now and gives the spotlight a wide berth.
If there’s any possible takeaway from such a tragic and senseless double death, it would be – when you’re speaking on someone, remember their 10-year-old son just might be watching.
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