NFL Murder-Suicide Raises Awkward Questions in US
On Saturday December 1st 2012 Kansas City Chief’s line-backer, 25 year old Jovan Belcher, shot and killed his 22 year old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins in the bedroom of the home they shared. The couple had a three month old daughter, Zoe, together.
Belcher then drove five miles to his team’s stadium, Arrowhead, where he was met by his coaches in the parking lot and shot himself in the head.
Harrowing details of the tragic violent act have since emerged over the past four days.
Belcher’s mother, who was in the house at the time of the murder, heard a gunshot and ran to the couple’s bedroom where she saw her son lean over his girlfriend’s body, say sorry and then kiss her on the forehead.
He then apologised to his mother and kissed his daughter goodbye before fleeing the scene in his car.
Having crashed through the gates at his team’s stadium he was met by his team’s General Manager Scott Pioli, his coach Romeo Crennel and line-backer coach Gary Gibbs in the staff car park. He exited his car with a gun pointed to his head and told Pioli he had just shot his girlfriend, thanked him for everything they had done for them and asked that Pioli and Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt look after his daughter.
When police officers arrived at Arrowhead Stadium Belcher told his coaches, who had been trying to talk him down, “I got to go. I can’t be here.” He then walked behind his vehicle, knelt on the ground, blessed himself and fired a single bullet into his head.
The tragedy has renewed debate on gun control in the States, mental illness and the increased chances of brain injury due to the physicality of American football.
On November 18th Belcher received a concussion in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. A friend reported that since that game Belcher’s short term memory had been affected. It was also noted that since the head injury Belcher had begun drinking every day and was taking pain medication.
A recent study by the Boston University Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy highlighted the relationship between repeated head trauma and diseases such as depression. The study of 85 athletes and military personal who took repeated hits to the head found that 68 of them had evidence of Traumatic Brain Injury; a disease which can cause memory loss, depression and dementia.
TBI is a condition that is receiving more and more attention due to the six suicides of NFL players in the past two years. Last July the NFL commissioned a 24 hour crisis hotline for its players and also initiated a mental health programme. It has also been revealed that Belcher and Perkins were receiving couple’s counselling organised through the Kansas City Chiefs. Apparently the couple’s relationship had been struggling due to financial issues.
However the most controversial commentary about the murder-suicide has revolved around the US’s gun control laws. At half time on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” show, sports commentator Bob Costa spoke for 90 seconds about how dangerous guns were.
In his commentary Costa said he felt that if Belcher didn’t own a handgun he and his girlfriend would be alive right now and also quoted sports journalist Jason Whitlock who had wrote on the tragedy: “Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.”
Costa was attacked over his comments in both national and social media. In the national media he was accused of “exploiting” and “hijacking” a tragedy to promote his own political agenda. On Twitter posts such as “If guns kill people do spoons make people fat?” were everywhere.
America is so fanatical over guns that even after the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 in which 14 teenagers died and 1 adult, pro-gun campaigners’ said that the massacre was proof that Americans needed guns to protect themselves from each other. This rhetoric again poked its head up with some saying maybe if Kasandra Perkins owned a handgun at least the couple’s orphaned child might have one parent alive.
Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney even broached the issue in the presidential debates despite high profile US shootings in 2012 such as the Aurora cinema massacre or the murder of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.
One commentator on social media wrote that had Belcher not had a gun he still would have murdered his girlfriend and then “my guess is that he would have killed himself in a car accident.” Not only has the American public dismissed that the murder weapon, Belcher’s legally owned handgun, played a part in the tragic events but they are doing so by suggesting that Belcher was a crazy psychopath who would have found a way to kill her regardless because he was clearly just crazy.
This is an insult to people who suffer from mental illness and does nothing to extinguish the stigma attached to it which prevents so many from seeking treatment for it.
Belcher, despite his 6’4 size, 230 pounds physique and profession in a violent sport did not have a violent reputation off the field. In fact he graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in child studies and family development. At Maine he was also a member of an anti-violence group called Male Athletes Against Violence.
His college football coach told reporters he couldn’t think of another player who had such a positive attitude toward life. His high school football coach said: “He was a good athlete but an even better person. An unbelievable role model.”
It is easy to create a list of the reasons why Belcher did what he did; Head injuries, alcohol, pain medication, stress and depression, access to firearms. It is not easy to say which reasons should get more precedence than the rest. However one definitive answer is not needed to find solutions to prevent similar tragedies. Each possibility holds equal weight.
But sadly it is already looking like the deaths of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher will not change the cultural or social landscape of America. On Sunday Kansas City Chiefs lined out and played an NFL match in Arrowhead Stadium the next day despite the fact that Belcher had just killed himself there the day before.
They won 27-21 against the Carolina Panthers, a win which ended an eight game losing streak and thus the story had its happy, Hollywood ending. In America the sun will always come up tomorrow.