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Root for McNair, another victim of bottom line

Ravens fans, this isn't about you. You're going to be pulling for Steve McNair this afternoon in Nashville anyway. It's not about Titans fans, either, because you can't help but want your former hero to look good in his homecoming.

This is about every other sports fan in America. You should want, hope and pray for Steve McNair to beat the Titans today, and beat them badly. It's your obligation to root for him, even if you've never felt any passion for either team.

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That's because a win by McNair is a victory over the cold, harsh, bottom-line business mind-set of big-time sports. You don't get many chances. This one is being laid out right in front of you.

If you're aware of how the Titans tossed McNair aside like an old pair of cleats last offseason, you should want to see Tennessee, a team he took to a Super Bowl, humiliated by him and his presence in the stadium he helped build.

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Because, despite what you've always heard, no matter how long you've been throwing yourself heart and soul into sports, it's not always just about business.

You've heard that a lot this past week around the area. You've heard it about McNair, because had the Titans had an ounce of decency instead of an eye constantly on the balance sheets, he would be starting for Tennessee today instead of the Ravens.

And you've heard it about the University of Miami football team that played at Byrd Stadium yesterday.

A lot of people, deep down, really wished that, out of respect for the circumstances that took the life of Hurricanes senior Bryan Pata last week, the game had been postponed or canceled. But a lot of those same people felt powerless and surrendered to the idea that business is business, and it would be too awkward and contentious for too many people to let anything but business dictate what was decided.

The players who decided to go on with the game - while their emotional wounds were still fresh - likely have no idea how easy they made it for the men and women in charge not to have to make a tough decision. Coach Larry Coker actually said that declining to play would have been the "easy" move. Wrong. What the officials at Miami did - nothing - was the easy move.

Playing through their pain, we've been told, is a valuable lesson for the guys, and good therapy. A lot of psychoanalysts and grief counselors would have a field day with that one. Then again, a lot of them might have tickets to the Atlantic Coast Conference title game three weeks from now.

The show must go on. Life must go on. Try to squeeze in some mourning when it's a little more convenient for others.

That's what's sad about what happens in these situations so often. We regular 9-to-5 hacks don't get to have lives rearranged for our benefit, so why should these privileged athletes?

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And, if our employers don't want to pay us anymore, and decide to dump us just because they can't straighten out their finances, and forget about our decade or more of good work and contributions to the cause - nobody feels sorry for us, do they?

So why should anyone feel sorry for Steve McNair?

None of us, great or small, can stand up to the ongoing grind of business. If it had been good for business, McNair would have stayed in Tennessee, a team for which he sacrificed salary and various body parts for more than a decade. If it had made business sense to play that Miami game on another day, if the schedule had allowed it, it would have been changed without debate.

Business. The schedule. The system. All spoken about as if they're impenetrable structures impervious to our puny human powers, and not man-made creations that can be un-created anytime we want or need. After Sept. 11 the World Series was played in November, the Super Bowl pushed back, the Ryder Cup shifted from odd-numbered years to even.

Humans did that. Business was put aside, and it survived.

Locking McNair out of the Titans facility - like some crazy live-in ex-boyfriend who refused to give back his keys after he was thrown out - that was a human decision, too. A callous, coldly calculated human decision.

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In an interview to be aired today, new teammate Ray Lewis implied that race was a factor in the Titans' "heartless" treatment of McNair. That should never be automatically dismissed.

Then again, to address that is to presume that they care about anything more than their wallets. They seem capable of judging players not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their cap numbers.

Hiding from the responsibility for that by saying, "It's just business," is weak. So is hiding behind hasty, mood-driven decisions by traumatized young adults to avoid taking charge of a situation.

To paraphrase Sonny Corleone, sometimes it has to be personal. And sometimes business has to suffer.

So get behind Steve McNair against the Titans. Today, it isn't business, it's personal.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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David Steele -- Points After

In the first college football game ever played, in 1869, Rutgers beat Princeton, 6-4. Nevertheless, the next week Rutgers' head coach took over play-calling duties from the offensive coordinator. It took awhile to sink in, but it paid off Thursday night.

Maybe this week, as an encore, Brian Billick will explain a late-game clock-management move by saying that a meteor might have hit the free safety at the exact same time the Redskins-Eagles game is being decided by a meteor hitting the free safety.

Two Baltimore players signing with Gary Williams at Maryland is good news on several fronts: They both can play, the Terps won't have to watch them take another team to the Final Four and things went well the last time a prominent area player went there (Juan Dixon).

Brenda Frese seems to know her way around town, too, with the Marah Strickland (Towson Catholic) signing. It will be a real upset if today's banner raising at Comcast Center is the last there for the next five years or so.

Eventually, amid all the stories about the new NBA ball, the pluses and minuses and claims and complaints (and smirking jokes about the complainers), someone will ask, or answer, a fundamental question: Why did it have to be changed in the first place?


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