Fall of a Titan fumbles for the truth behind a football star’s death

illustration by Andrew DeGraff via SI

You’ve got to listen to this podcast, because I’m dying to hear what you think happened to Steve McNair and Jenni Kazemi.

I’m not one to follow sports, but when my dad recommended Sports Illustrated’s Fall of a Titan podcast, Stephen and I were hooked right away and eagerly discussed our theories. It’s an engaging listen for true crime fans who aren’t necessarily sports buffs, because it turns out that football barely factors into this story.

If you’re familiar with the case, host Tim Rohan wants you to reconsider what you think you know, particularly the Nashville Police’s narrative that Kazemi went to her boyfriend McNair’s condo on the night of July 4th, 2009, and shot him four times before taking her own life.

Here’s my take: I don’t know what happened, but I absolutely believe that there’s more to the story than the Nashville Police released. I’m not convinced that Kazemi killed him, and I’m more inclined to believe she was a casualty of someone else’s beef with McNair. He’s considered the only victim, but I feel just as much sympathy for her and her family because she can’t defend herself. McNair had a famous football career, but Kazemi’s name and life are inseparable from his death.

McNair and Kazemi via

Frankly, I just don’t believe that she, at 20 years old, could’ve been singlehandedly responsible for the way he died. I’ve watched my fill of Snapped, so I know better than to underestimate a woman’s propensity for violence. What really stuck out to me were the (admittedly sexist) comments from McNair’s friends who doubted that Kazemi could’ve fired the four close-range shots that killed McNair, in the dark, when she had never handled a weapon before.

For reference: I’ve never really handled guns, just shot a .22 rifle (?) at 4-H camp when I was 11. Last year a family member let me fire their 9mm at a gun range and I found it difficult to handle and aim — more so than the other handgun I had the chance to shoot that day. If the gun Kazemi supposedly used was also known for being janky, prone to jamming and difficult to aim, how could she have fired those four accurate shots? Did she even know what a double tap was?

I think it’s more plausible that once her cousin canceled their plans for that night, Kazemi threw on her pink Victoria’s Secret getup and called her boyfriend. My theory is that someone surprised them at the condo after she arrived, or that she walked in on whoever really shot McNair and they killed and framed her for it. But who? I have my suspicions about some of McNair’s friends discussed on the podcast, but there are too many unknowns to say.

The podcast has left me with burning questions that I’m eager to hear answered, particularly by the Nashville PD. For example, what’s so hush-hush about the crime scene photos? No one has seen them, so the above illustration is an artist’s interpretation.

Not everyone shares my interest in Rohan’s approach, and some listeners weren’t impressed with his speculation based on rumors. It’s the same kind of catch-22 I feel about Payne Lindsay, or podcasts like Hell and Gone, where hosts are willing to sacrifice the privacy of people implicated in cold cases, blasting their identity worldwide and evaluating their character in the court of their audience’s opinion. Everyone is a fair target in the hunt for the killer, even those already cleared by law enforcement. Is it wrong to throw fuel on a raging rumor-based dumpster fire and see what happens? It’s unethical, at least. But does it get results? It depends.

For all the podcast’s shortcomings, I give it credit for treating Jenni Kazemi like a human and entertaining the possibility that she might have been a victim, too. Even if it’s all speculation and rumor, this story is all the world will ever know about her.

What did you make of Fall of a Titan? Where do you stand?

Side note:

I also listened to Gladiator, the Boston Globe‘s podcast about Aaron Hernandez, and I was…not impressed? For such a renowned publication, I was disappointed to hear such amateur production quality, especially in such a rapidly maturing market. Did you listen? What did you think?