Before the Kansas City Chiefs kicked off their game Sunday, fans at Arrowhead Stadium observed a moment of silence for the victims of domestic violence and their families.
Not mentioned was Jovan Belcher, the Chiefs linebacker who killed his girlfriend and then himself a day earlier, across the parking lot from the stadium.
Barely more than 24 hours later, fans grilled, played catch and enjoyed beverages on a warm and sunny day.
The festive atmosphere masked some of the pain Chiefs fans felt after hearing that Belcher had killed 22-year-old Kasandra M. Perkins, then drove to the team practice facility and turned the gun on himself. The couple had an infant daughter.
Coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli had tried to stop Belcher, and watched powerless as he shot himself in the head after thanking both of them for giving him a chance in the NFL.
Kansas City police have not released a motive for the shootings, which claimed the life of Belcher and 22-year-old Kasandra M. Perkins, and left a 3-month-old girl, Zoey, an orphan.
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Belcher's locker was left with his jersey hanging on a hook.
"In moments, tragedies like this, they can define you or redefine you," Quarterback Brady Quinn said, "and I think this team took an event and allowed it to redefine us."
The apparent murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, 25, is one of a series of untimely deaths for current or former NFL players in recent years:
- In July 2012, Tennessee Titans receiver O.J. Murdock, 25, was found in his car in front of his Florida high school with what appeared to be self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
- In May 2012, Junior Seau, 43, shot himself in the chest at his home, less than 2 1/2 years after ending his Pro Bowl career as a linebacker. His family has donated some of his brain tissue for research amid questions about whether any damage from his 20-year football career played a factor in his suicide. His was at least the eighth among the 1994 San Diego Chargers, who played in the Super Bowl, joining Lew Bush (42; December 2011; apparent heart attack), Shawn Lee (44; February 2011; heart attack), Chris Mims (38; October 2008; enlarged heart), Curtis Whitley (39; May 2008; drug overdose), Doug Miller (28; July 1998; lightning strike), Rodney Culver (26; May 1996; airplane crash), David Griggs (28; July 1995; automobile accident).
- In April 2012, former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, 62, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. An autopsy report found he had a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated concussions. Easterling played from 1972 to 1979 as a member of Atlanta's "Gritz Blitz" defense. After his career, he dealt with dementia, depression and insomnia, according to his widow.
- In February 2011, two-time Super Bowl champion Dave Duerson, 50, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest at his home in Florida. Duerson had at least 10 concussions in his NFL career, according to his family, and lost consciousness during some. He left notes for his family asking that his brain be donated to science, and researchers at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University's School of Medicine concluded he had "moderately advanced" brain damage related to blows to the head.
- In September 2010, Denver Broncos wide receiver Kenny McKinley, 23, shot himself at his home not far from the team's training complex. He was recovering from a second knee operation in eight months and, according to a probe of his death, was deep in debt.
- In December 2009, Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry, 26, died from a fractured skull and other head injuries a day after tumbling out of the back of a pickup truck driven by his fiancee.
- In July 2009, Steve McNair, 36, the quarterback and 2003 NFL co-MVP who spent most of his career with the Tennessee Titans, was shot to death by his mistress, who then killed herself.
- In February 2009, Oakland Raiders linebacker Marquis Cooper, 26; free-agent NFL defensive lineman Corey Smith, 29; and former University of South Florida football player William Bleakley, 25, died when their boat overturned in rough water off the coast of Florida.
- In November 2007, Washington Redskins Pro Bowl safety Sean Taylor, 24, bled to death after he was shot in the thigh during a botched robbery at his Florida home. Police said the group of robbers did not expect Taylor to be home because the Redskins had a game that weekend - but he was out with an injury.
- In March 2007, Denver Broncos running back Damien Nash, 24, collapsed and died of a heart attack after he played in a charity basketball game to raise funds for his heart foundation.
- In the early hours of New Year's Day 2007, Denver cornerback Darrent Williams, 24, died after being shot followed by a confrontation between Broncos players and gang members at a nightclub.
causing an immediate debate on social media.
In the wake of the Belcher murder-suicide, Costas paraphrased and quoted extensively from a piece by Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock.
After praising the column, Costas said:
"In the coming days, Jovan Belcher's actions and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows? But here, wrote Jason Whitlock, is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."
Belcher shot and killed Perkins, the mother of his 3-month-old daughter, on Saturday morning, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and committed suicide in the parking lot of the team's practice facility.
The online reaction to Costas' segment was swift, with many people criticizing the broadcaster for expressing his personal views on a program meant for entertainment.
Here's the original Fox Sports column Costas quoted:
from Columnist Jason Whitlock:
Football is embarrassingly tone deaf.
Jovan Belcher, a starting linebacker for the Chiefs, murdered the mother of his child shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday. He hopped in his car, drove to the Kansas City Chiefs practice facility, thanked Romeo Crennel and Scott Pioli — and shot himself in the head in front of his coach and general manager around 8:10 a.m.
Within two hours, the NFL instructed the Carolina Panthers to travel to Kansas City as scheduled in preparation for Sunday’s noon kickoff. By 3 p.m., the Chiefs announced that Crennel and team captains had decided to play Sunday’s game as planned.
Short of terrorist attack and weather disaster, nothing slows the NFL.
A 25-year-old kid gunned down his 22-year-old girlfriend in front of his mother and three-month-old child, and all he could think to do in the immediate aftermath is rush to thank his football coach and football employer. Belcher’s last moments on this earth weren’t spent thanking the mother who raised him or apologizing to the child he would orphan. His final words of gratitude and perhaps remorse were reserved for his football gods.
It should come as no surprise that Crennel, Chiefs players, Pioli, owner Clark Hunt and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell quickly agreed not to delay Sunday’s football congregation at Arrowhead Stadium.
Football is our God. Its exaggerated value in our society has never been more evident than Saturday morning in my adopted hometown. There’s just no way this game should be played.
Twenty-eight hours after witnessing one of his starting linebackers take his life, Crennel will stand on the sideline as young men play a violent game. Twenty-eight hours after one of their best friends killed the mother of his child and himself, Chiefs players will take the field and play a violent game.
Football is a game of emotion. Football is a game in which the coaches and players preach about treating each other as family.
How can they play Sunday? Why should they?
Belcher and his girlfriend didn’t die in a car accident 30 minutes away from Arrowhead Stadium. This isn’t some tragedy Crennel and Pioli heard about. Belcher crashed his car through the gates of the Chiefs practice facility. He pointed a gun to his head in front of Crennel and Pioli. He killed himself within a quarter of a mile of Arrowhead Stadium, where the players and coaches work.
I just don’t get it. And I’m not trying to vilify the Chiefs for choosing to play Sunday’s game. It shouldn’t be their decision. Roger Goodell should’ve made this call. Crennel, Pioli and Kansas City players are justifiably still in a state of shock.
You may argue that we all grieve differently. You may argue that playing the game is the best way to move on and heal. You may argue that canceling or delaying the game would serve no purpose and would be unfair to the fans who traveled to Kansas City to see Cam Newton and the Panthers play the Chiefs.
I would argue that your rationalizations speak to how numb we are in this society to gun violence and murder. We’ve come to accept our insanity. We’d prefer to avoid seriously reflecting upon the absurdity of the prevailing notion that the second amendment somehow enhances our liberty rather than threatens it.
How many young people have to die senselessly? How many lives have to be ruined before we realize the right to bear arms doesn’t protect us from a government equipped with stealth bombers, predator drones, tanks and nuclear weapons?
Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.
In the coming days, Belcher’s actions will be analyzed through the lens of concussions and head injuries. Who knows? Maybe brain damage triggered his violent overreaction to a fight with his girlfriend. What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.
That is the message I wish Chiefs players, professional athletes and all of us would focus on Sunday and moving forward. 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.
But we won’t. We’ll watch Sunday’s game and comfort ourselves with the false belief we’re incapable of the wickedness that exploded inside Jovan Belcher Saturday morning.