I didn’t know the name Jovan Belcher until very recently.
I’m not a huge fan of the NFL. I catch a game now and again, and even if I was glued to my television come Sunday, I probably would not have known the late Belcher, who was a starting linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, a team that I do not follow.
Unfortunately, I didn’t hear about Belcher while he was alive. I didn’t have the opportunity to hear about him because of his on-field exploits.
Like so many, I was in shock when I heard what happened Saturday morning.
On that day, Belcher, who was only 25 years old, argued with his girlfriend, 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins, with whom he shared a daughter. Instead of the argument ending with heated words and the parting of ways, Belcher shot the mother of his child nine times. She died shortly thereafter.
Belcher’s mother, Cheryl Shepherd, who was staying with the couple at the time, was in the residence when the shooting occurred.
Shepherd called the police and Belcher got in his car and drove to the Chief’s practice facility beside Arrowhead Stadium.
There, Belcher met team general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel. Pioli and Crennel attempted to talk Belcher down, but Belcher thanked them and said simply, “Can’t be here.”
As police arrived at the scene, Belcher knelt beside his car and shot himself in the head.
It’s impossible to know the innermost thoughts or motivations for anybody, which makes it all the more difficult to process tragic situations such as this.
That doesn’t keep us from trying, however.
There’s nothing worse than not knowing, and so we create a variety of answers.
Was the tragic murder-suicide just another case of seldom-discussed domestic violence? What does that mean for our society? How could this have been prevented?
Was it an issue of mental illness? Was there something “off” with Belcher? How could this have been prevented?
Was it an issue of stress? Evidently the relationship had been under some strain, and NFL players perform on one of the world’s biggest stages. Should Belcher have gone to counseling? How could this have been prevented?
Was this an issue of gun control? Belcher owned multiple, legally registered firearms. Is it a pervasive gun-culture that produced such a violent crime?
The root remains: how could this have been prevented?
Unfortunately, it’s easy to ask a question, but there are no easy answers.
Truthfully, it might have to do with all of these things, and even more that we will likely never know about.
In probably the best treatment of the tragedy that I have read to date, in an article titled “Manhood, football and suicide” which appeared as an opinion piece on CNN.com, writer and activist Kevin Powell addressed what he referred to as the “knee-jerk reactions” to the event and talks about one aspect of the tragedy which has been overlooked.
“Belcher was a man living in the supersized, macho world of football, a world in which many of us American males reside, be it football or not. Too many of us have been taught manhood in a way that is not healthy. Be tough, men do not cry, man up – these are things I’ve heard my entire life, and I now cringe when I hear this relayed to boys or younger men by teachers, coaches, fathers, mentors and leaders."
“Or we use derogatory and sexist or homophobic words to describe men or boys who do not meet the ‘normal’ of what a male is supposed to be. Some of these male authority figures mean well . . . and do not realize that they are unwittingly teaching that manhood has little room to express hurt, disappointment and sorrow.”
What a terrible narrative to be a part of, and what a backward, regressive way we force these “norms” on people, particularly in their formative years.
Powell is quick to appropriately remind the reader of Perkins, particularly when so much attention has been given to the aggressor in the situation. While Belcher is guilty of murdering his girlfriend, and of leaving his 3-month-old daughter without parents, Perkins was innocent.
Her voice was silenced, because Belcher could not express his without violence.
Players knew Belcher as a dedicated, hard-working player who managed to do what few can. Belcher was projected as a sixth-round pick in the 2009 draft, but instead went undrafted and became a free agent. Somehow his perseverance led to a starting role with an NFL program. He only recently signed a new one-year contract with the Chiefs, worth close to $1.9 million.
And then this.
There are no easy answers.
I leave you with a poem from what I refer to unreservedly as my favorite poet, James Wright. The poem “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” is about a number of things that are relevant to discussing this tragedy, perhaps most importantly the effects of football culture.
Wright, who grew up in blue-collar Martins Ferry, occasionally wrote about football. The sport was ingrained in the culture, and it was clearly seen as one way to escape the working-class way of life.
The poem was published in Wright’s “The Branch Will Not Break” from 1963.
In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.
All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home,
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.
(Send comments or questions to email@example.com or follow him on twitter @nhallccnt)