Keeping Score

How the Kansas City Chiefs, and the NFL, Are Coping with Tragedy

Jovon Belcher allegedly murdered his girlfriend, before taking his own life in front of his coach and general manager. The tragedy is shaking the NFL.

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Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs watches from the sidelines during his final game, played against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 25, 2012.

What an unimaginable Sunday in Kansas City.

On Saturday, Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed his girlfriend, according to police, before committing suicide in a parking lot at the Chiefs’ training facility. He shot himself in front of Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli and another coach or employee. “They said the player was actually thanking them for everything they’d done for him,” a police spokesman said. “They were just talking to him, and he was thanking them and everything. That’s when he walked away and shot himself.” Belcher and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, had a 3-month-old daughter together. Belcher’s agent, Joe Linta — who is also the agent for Crennel — told Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King on Saturday:

Jovan was a happy, proud father, with pictures of his baby on his Facebook page. This is shocking. Something went crazy wrong, and we’ll probably never know what it is …

Never until four hours ago did I think Jovan was anything but a model citizen,” Linta said. “He came to my youth clinics in the off-season and worked with kids. He was a gracious, unselfish, hardworking, dedicated kid — very, very caring of some of the underprivileged kids who came to the clinics. I saw him in a real positive way.

I never take on anyone as a client I wouldn’t be proud to take home and spend time with my wife and kids. Jovan was one of those type of people.

There’s no word for this other than shocking. That’s all I can think of.

Belcher, 25, is the fourth current or former NFL player to commit suicide since April. The others were Junior Seau, best known for his years with the San Diego Chargers; O.J. Murdock of the Tennessee Titans; and the long-retired Ray Easterling of the Atlanta Falcons. Easterling’s and Seau’s deaths have been widely blamed on dementia resulting from football-related concussions. Murdock’s and — so far — Belcher’s deaths are more of a mystery.

Kansas City’s home game against the Carolina Panthers, scheduled for 1 p.m. E.T. on Sunday, will go on as scheduled. “After discussions between the league office, head coach Romeo Crennel and Chiefs team captains,” the Chiefs said in a statement on Saturday. “The Chiefs advised the NFL that it will play.”

Said Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn, via the Kansas City Star:

It’s hard mostly because I keep thinking about what I could have done to stop this. I think everyone is wondering whether we would have done something to prevent this from happening.

And then we’re all thinking about his daughter, three or four months old and without a parent. It’s hard to not allow the emotions of the situation to creep into your head with the game this close. But we’re going to do the best we can to concentrate on the task at hand …

As players and teammates, we need to do a better job of reaching out to people and trying to be more involved and more invested in their lives. You never really know what’s going on in someone life, what they’re struggling with or what they’re battling through.

The emotions are tangled here. Belcher was an admired teammate. But he allegedly committed a murder. The NFL has dispatched a crisis-management team to Kansas City. Sly James, the mayor of Kansas City, consoled Pioli and Crennel. Via the Kansas City Star:

“He’s trying to do his job under probably more adverse circumstances than he’s ever seen in his life,” James said of Pioli. “He knows all the players. He knows that particular player; he’s very emotional.”

James couldn’t put himself in Pioli and Crennel’s shoes but said,m “You have absolutely no idea of what it’s like to see somebody kill themselves. If you can take your worst nightmare and put somebody you know and love into that situation, and give them a gun and stand 3 feet away from them and watch them kill themselves, that’s what it is like.

“It’s unfathomable. Think about your worst nightmare and multiply it by five.”

Sports can have therapeutic powers in times of tragedy. You hope that’s the result on Sunday. There’s merciful relief in spending three hours in which only the score matters.