On Saturday morning, December 1st, Kansas City Chiefs middle linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins in front of their 3-month old daughter Zoey and his mother. Then, just after 8 a.m. he drove to the Chiefs practice facility at Arrowhead Stadium, thanked Coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli for all of their support and then without further ado, in front of a small crowd, took his own life. It was a brutal, desperate, cowardly, heart-breaking chunk of planetary time that has left two families and their grief thrust into the international spotlight while one helpless innocent remains, at least for now, somewhat blissfully unaware of the mind-numbingly tragic actions of her father which have left her orphaned.
Unsurprisingly, on Sunday, the National Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs decided that the show must go on against the visiting Carolina Panthers. Whilst both teams can best be described as ‘embarrassingly under-achieving’ it doesn’t take a cynic to realize that neither organization ever seriously considered shifting game-time with enigmatic superstar-du-jour and stadium seat seller Cam Newton flying in. Perhaps a city’s shock and grief is best dealt with en masse with the waving of foam fingers and the chanting of “D-Fence” or perhaps it is just that the numerous intricate details involved in moving the game to Monday outweigh our societal need for quiet reflection. Or most likely - as illustrated by CBS Sports’ Fantasy Football noting what impact his death could have on your line-up – we have developed a method of speed-healing proportional to the speed at which we receive and process tragic information in this day and age. Chiefs 27 – Panthers 21 … perhaps, as Coach Crennel noted in his abbreviated presser… “We’re football players, football coaches and we play and coach on Sunday… it (took) our mind off our misery for a few hours.”
Noted Kansas City resident, FOX Sports contributor and agent provocateur to the racially sensitive Jason Whitlock took his ironic first stab at the issue of the gun culture in the world of sports in a column on Sunday morning – a column which got national attention on NBC Sports during the Sunday Night Game when referenced by anchor Bob Costas. In it Whitlock notes how “numb we are in this society to gun violence and murder” and both he and Costas – in rare agreement, it must be noted – have little problem in taking a public stand against the 2nd Amendment and the ultra-American ideal that somehow ‘the right to bear arms’ will protect John Q Public from his own power-mad government.
The camo-clad, NRA bunker back-lash has predictably dominated the forums of ‘that there Inter-Web thang’ with the ever-popular analysis on how guns don’t in fact kill people, people do. In fact, it’s bullets… but let us not digress into semantics. While I may not agree with Whitlock’s ultimate assertion that Belcher and Perkins would still be alive today had the 2nd Amendment been left in the 18th century where it belongs, it never ceases to amaze me how many young Americans continue to die either by accident or at the hands of loved ones…hands that hold guns…which hold bullets.
Yes, for every Rae Carruth there is an OJ Simpson, for every Plaxico Burress there is a Chris Benoit – it isn’t always guns. Sometimes, other factors are in play. Like Whitlock, one of my initial reactions to the breaking story on Saturday morning centered on if, as is so often the case, the upcoming ‘expert’ analysis would shift the prevailing discussion once more to the topic of head trauma and concussions. The recent spate of prominent sport suicides that have included the likes of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson in the NFL and Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard and Wade Belak in the NHL ensures that although Belcher is said to have not had a “long concussion history”, his actions seem so strangely and violently out of character, that the CTE debate will most likely begin in earnest once more. As it should.
Whatever the reasons for this tragedy, there is one truth that stands out. As a public that laps at the fountain of achievement of its sports stars, we have spent the last few years building up an immunity to the iocane powder of flaws and failings inherent in those who we rush to place on a pedestal for the express purpose of one day joyously knocking them off. Jovan Belcher was an undrafted free agent from the University of Maine who became a starter in the NFL. He gave motivational speeches to the youth in his hometown of West Babylon, New York where he had, for 2 seasons captained the High School football team. He was the father of a beautiful baby girl. And yet, for reasons that may or may not one day become apparent, he chose a fateful day in December to orphan his child. The crime is unforgivable and inexcusable. The road going forward for the family members that remain is torturous, pot-holed with the constant questioning and sideways glances from neighbours and strangers alike. The Sports Fan in me has a penchant for abstract answers to “Why?” but the man in me will be haunted for a long time by thoughts of a little girl named Zoey and how she will find her way in this twisted, warped world.
Until next time Kelowna…