"The Games must go on!" —Olympic President Avery Brundage in 1972 after 11 Israeli athletes were killed in a terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics
But is that always the right thing to do in the immediate aftermath of a shocking tragedy? After Saturday's senseless murder/suicide by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, the NFL and the Chiefs decided to go on with Sunday afternoon's contest vs. the Carolina Panthers.
Let's look at another time when the NFL chose to play games directly after an appalling death. Longtime NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle caved in to pressure and allowed his fledgling National Football League to play the Sunday after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963.
In his later years, long after he left the post he held for nearly three decades, Rozelle would admit it was the worst decision of his professional life. While America grieved for their young leader, the games went on. And while no one is equating Saturday's disaster on the scale of a fallen U.S. President, the decision by the NFL within hours to continue Sunday's game is no less egregious.
After gunning down his 22-year old girlfriend Kasandra M. Perkins in front of his own mother and with their three-month daughter in another room, Belcher drove several miles to the training facility entrance of Arrowhead Stadium, his Sunday home for the all four years of his NFL career after signing as an undrafted free agent out of Maine.
There he encountered Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, among others. As they tried to calm Belcher down, he proceeded to thank them for the professional opportunity they had given him. He then proceeded to shoot himself in the head, right in front of them.
The NFL released a statement that expressed sympathy and said, "We have connected the Chiefs with our national team of professional counselors to support both the team and the families of those affected. We will continue to provide assistance in any way that we can."
Yet just a few short hours later, word came down that a decision had been made: The scheduled noon (Central time) kickoff would continue. Crennel and the other coaches who observed the carnage would be on the sidelines to coach. Pioli would view the team from the team's luxury box high above Arrowhead Stadium.
That is some miraculous psychotherapy. The NFL must have sent in Sigmund Freud reincarnated. Or Dr. Phil on performance-enhancing healing overdrive.
Team captains spoke with Crennel, expressing their desire to play. Word eventually got to commissioner Roger Goodell, and it was officially decided the game would go on.
What did you expect the players to say? We are too emotionally distraught over the death of our teammate to continue? We can't comprehend how our friend and colleague could murder the mother of his own child in front of his own mother? Please cancel the game and allow us to process the mind-boggling madness of the day's events and give us time to mourn?
That is not how the NFL works. This is not a new concussion test after a helmet-to-helmet hit. There is no series of one-week procedures that will allow you to take the field in the next game.
Your teammate is a murderer. He killed himself on the doorstep of your facility, perhaps escaping a life of incarceration. For the players that remain, this is a mental head shot. One that can't be comprehended. An indescribable act of violence and cowardice.
And yet the game is going on as if nothing happened approximately 30 hours later. Minds clouded. Emotions bubbling on the surface. Hose down the blood and brain matter and strap on the pads. Process it. Move on. The Roman Coliseum meets American Psycho.
There are no playoff implications for either squad. The Chiefs are a one-win team with dwindling attendance. A struggling franchise with loyal but long-suffering fans who cheered when their starting quarterback was flattened, dazed and carted off in a losing effort earlier this season.
A coaching change at season's end was inevitable anyway. Likely the entire front office was going to be canned as well.
So battle on today. Play on through the tears and grief. Your psychological confusion will dissipate in time. You have been cleared to play. The games must go on.
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