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A Tale of Three Deaths: Michael, McNair and Bubba

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George E. Curry
In the span of one week, there was endless international coverage of Michael Jackson’s death, national coverage of the murder of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair. But there was no coverage, beyond a local obituary, of Elner Colvin.  Never heard of Elner Colvin? I’m not surprised. He was a classmate and football teammate at Druid High School in Tuscaloosa, Ala. After graduating from Tuskegee University, he was a high school teacher in Montgomery. Although the public was deluged with news reports on Michael Jackson and Steve McNair, it was the death of Elner, whom we called Bubba, that had the most significance to me.  Someone defined celebrity as a person who is well known for being well known.We live in a celebrity driven society. And sometimes that hype can reach such levels that we lose touch with the things that really matter in life.

When I first learned about Michael’s death through a text message, I thought it was a joke. So, I replied asking: Is this another Michael Jackson joke? Afer I was assured that it wasn’t, I clicked on the TV and witnessed the saturated coverage that was still growing strong through his public viewing Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Like many of my generation, I saw Michael grow from a child phenom to an international megastar.

Without a doubt, he is one of the most talented entertainers that the world has ever seen. While I deeply admired his talent and some of his charitable contributions, I had a deepening concern about his continuing to disfigure himself as he moon walked toward Whiteness. I know that it’s not polite to speak ill of the dead. But it’s not right to avoid the truth simply because someone is dead. I am not saying anything that I didn’t say while he was alive, so get over it.

In fact, I wrote a column in June 2005, shortly after his acquittal on child molestation charges: “When he comes down from his tree house, Michael Jackson at the age of 46, sees nothing wrong with sleeping in a bed with young boys. No matter how you slice it, that’s sick.”

As I mentioned in the column, lifelong civil rights activist Thomas N. Todd who reminded me that although Michael liked to sing that it doesn’t matter whether you’re Black or White, it was clear from his appearance that he wasn’t taking any chances.

As for Steve McNair, it was tough to see him go out like that.  During most of my young life, Black quarterbacks were not allowed to play that position in the pros and there was an unwritten rule that they could not play QB at many major colleges. The rap supposedly was that African-Americans could not play “thinking positions,” such as quarterback and middle linebacker. I always found that curious. We always had Black football teams in high school during the days of segregation and I’m here to tell you that we played with 11 men on offense and 11 on defense. If we could play the “thinking positions” against one another, we could play against anyone else. That was just another example of how illogical racism was and is.

As a high school and college quarterback, I always followed the exploits of the few who broke that barrier. Though I didn’t admire McNair as much as I respected Sandy Stephens of Minnesota or Jim Harris and later, Doug Williams, of Grambling, I applauded when he was selected in the first round by the Houston Oilers, before they moved to Nashville and McNair ended his career in Baltimore.

As this column goes to press, there are still unanswered questions about McNair’s homicide and whether his 20-year-old girlfriend shot him four times, including twice in the head, before turning the weapon on herself. This is a real mess, especially since no one has been able to find any divorce papers.  Back to my friend Elner Colvin.  Bubba made as significant a contribution to youth as a high school teacher as either Michael did through his music or McNair on the gridiron.  Day in and day out, teachers impact generations of students who go on to success. Yet, they are routinely undervalued.

Another reason Bubba’s death had a larger impact on me was how he died. Although results from all of the tests are not in, it is believed that Michael died of heart failure and there are questions whether it was induced by the inappropriate use of powerful drugs. But my friend Elner underwent gallstone surgery in a Birmingham hospital. After recovering, he suffered a heart attack and died in the hospital.

Twelve years ago, I underwent triple-bypass surgery. Without that, I too, may have joined close friends, all under 60 years old at the time, who have died from heart attacks.  Two first grade classmates who grew up with me in the housing projects --- Reginald Henderson and James Calvin Brown – died of heart attacks.  Now, Bubba.

Sure, the deaths of Michael and Air McNair are significant. But they don’t come close to the loss of Bubba, Reginald, and Calvin.

George E. Curry, former editor-inchief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach.  He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.

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