LOS ANGELES, December 1, 2012 ― The first day of December was supposed to be about football, but real life intervened with devastating news for the Kansas City Chiefs.
In news that shook the league to its core, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, then later turned the gun on himself and took his own life.
We do not have all of the facts, in particular the one that most people will want: Why. What we do know is that the 25-year-old Belcher and 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins had a three month old child. Their infant is now an orphan. The rest is second-hand or speculative.
According to reports, the fourth-year player murdered his girlfriend around 7:50am Kansas City (Central) time. This took place about five minutes from Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Chiefs. He then drove to the stadium and encountered Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli and Head Coach Romeo Crennel. The day before these men were concerned about being the worst team in football. When people asked what could go wrong next, they cannot possibly have fathomed something like this.
Pioli and Crennel insist that neither one of them was in any danger. Belcher thanked them both for the opportunity to play for the Chiefs, where he had started in 44 of 59 games over the past four seasons. He then walked away from them and killed himself.
He took his own life at the stadium in front of the people who run the team. Let that sink in.
The Chiefs on Sunday are hosting the equally woeful Carolina Panthers. With the Chiefs 1-10 and the Panthers 3-8, this was the game on Sunday that mattered the least. Depending on your perspective, it now matters the most…or even less. The NFL instructed the Panthers to fly to Kansas City as scheduled. The game will not be canceled.
At this moment, there are many more questions than answers. According to some, Belcher had been arguing with Ms. Perkins in recent weeks. Other reports contradict this information and tell a story of a happy couple. The fact that this tragedy may be connected to Belcher’s personal life rather than to football does not minimize the tragedy for the Chiefs organization. Whether financial issues played a role is unknown.
This incident will be portrayed as another mark against the National Football League. Attempts to draw parallels to other NFL tragedies ignore the fact that every situation is different and every human life is different. Yet the last few years have seen an increase in tragedies involving football teams.
Several months before the 2012 NFL season began, retired and beloved San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau took his own life.
On Independence Day of 2009, retired Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was part of a murder-suicide, but he was the victim. His girlfriend was the killer.
The worst of these situations in recent years took place in 1999 when Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth murdered his pregnant girlfriend. Miraculously, the unborn child survived. For those wanting an inspirational story, buy the Sports Illustrated issue that features that child, who is severely handicapped but seems very happy. Carruth threatened to take his own life but was captured, convicted of murder in 2001, and is scheduled to be released in 2018. Financial issues played a role in this terrible situation.
The Belcher tragedy is not even the first time a Chiefs player has committed a murder-suicide. From 1961 through 1973, offensive tackle Jim Tyrer was the Rock of Gibraltar. Yet life after football proved even tougher. After some failed business ventures, 1980 saw him end it all. Despite four children and four grandchildren, Tyrer killed his wife and then himself. 32 years later, history repeats itself in Kansas City in the worst possible way.
Not every tragedy can be prevented, but the NFL takes steps to try and help its players handle the pressures of instant money and fame. Rookies go through a symposium where they hear the horror stories of what happens when easy money and wild nights in clubs go wrong.
The league also has been determined to take the stigma off of mental illness. Players will discuss physical illnesses. There is no shame in a torn triceps or shattered knee. Yet players with mental illness are often afraid to come forward for fear of being called “crazy.” Former Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears linebacker Alonzo Spellman brandished a gun and threatened to commit suicide, but has since received treatment. Former Oakland Raiders center Barrett Robbins could not handle the pressure of playing in the Super Bowl. The married father of two had a breakdown the day before the game and threatened to kill himself. He was shot by police a few months later and has since been diagnosed with a treatable mental illness.
Near tragedies like these may be avoided in the future because the tide on attitudes towards admitting mental and emotional problems is slowly turning. Current Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall went public in 2011 with the news that he suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Murder-suicide is not usually committed by people who are mentally healthy. This cannot excuse what Belcher did, and it would be speculative in the extreme to claim that he was too mentally unstable to be responsible for his actions. Yet while a city grieves, people search for answers. While we cannot excuse what he did, we should attempt to understand what on the surface defies comprehension.
This is the third time that a Chiefs player has died in a situation involving multiple fatalities. Yet by the Grace of God, an earlier incident sounded a note of hope amidst the grief. In 1981, Chiefs running back Joe Delany dove into a small pool of water when he saw three children drowning. Delany could not swim, and he drowned with two of the children. But just before he died, he was able to save one of those children.
This has nothing to do with the Belcher tragedy except this - football players are men, sometimes sad, sometimes heroic. Belcher no more represents his team or what’s right and wrong with football than Delany does. Kansas City, the Chiefs, and their fans should remember this. As with the city and the team, each man is a mix of good and bad, the potentially great and the potentially tragic. So as we grieve the bad, let us remember the good and work harder to help others do and be good.
Follow Eric on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog.
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