Blame the NFL, Not the Gun, for Actions of Belcher and Players Like Him

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Blame the NFL, Not the Gun, for Actions of Belcher and Players Like Him
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Following the murder/suicide of Jovan Belcher, the question has to be asked as to whether or not football had anything to do with his actions

After a shocking tragedy hit the Kansas City Chiefs and NFL communities over the weekend, it came as no surprise that the discussion in its wake was about guns. 

Every time there is a high-profile shooting, we get a slew of high and mighty lectures from the media about gun control. Jason Whitlock, a Kansas City native, started it.

Bob Costas took to the the national airwaves and extended it.

Because we should absolutely blame the gun when it turns out those close to Jovan Belcher, the 25-year-old linebacker, knew Belcher wanted to end his own life.

It is surprising that it seems no players or coaches on the Chiefs noticed Belcher was having problems, particularly when the players seemed to show such solidarity with Belcher following his death. But I don't blame them. People commit suicide all the time, and it's not for lack of their friends and family trying to show them that life is worth living.

Lost in the tragedy of an NFL player's death was the fact that before he ended his own life, he shot his girlfriend nine times. The "murder" part of this murder-suicide seemed to have been lost on most of the media.

Mike Lupica attempted to remind us that there was collateral damage in this tragedy, but he too blamed the guns.

But buried even further is the reminder that NFL teams pay their players to be gladiators, without much regard for their physical or emotional states either during or after their playing careers.

 

Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then himself. Perhaps if the NFL had a better culture of caring about its players' well-being beyond their on-field careers, things could have gone differently. With that being said, people do bad things in this world sometimes, and in many cases there is nothing an employer or family or friend can do to prevent it.

I can't tell you for a fact that Jason Whitlock is wrong when he says Belcher and his girlfriend would be alive today if Belcher didn't have a gun. That being said, I'm pretty sure he is.

Someone who wants to end their own life and doesn't receive the help and treatment he or she needs, succeeds in doing it. The Cleveland Browns staffer who reportedly hung himself at the team's facility is evidence of that.

Belcher, intent on taking his own life, would have succeed one way or another. Not having a gun just meant he would have had to go a different route.

Unfortunately, the same is true of Kasandra Michelle Perkins, Belcher's now-deceased girlfriend.

Whether it was rage for her that finally made him snap, or it was killing her that led him to take his own life, we will never know.

This is not my way to advocate for less gun control, but I do think that's an easy scapegoat when the bigger issue is the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs were taken by surprise by this. His coaches, his teammates and perhaps most egregiously, the league that employs him.

 

Those those knew him have offered kind words about the former Maine linebacker. He was a quiet, motivated man, not a homicidal maniac. At least not until the day he died.

The NFL, and by extension the Chiefs, knew that their sport was a physically, mentally and emotionally taxing profession, and many players both current and former suffer from depression, bi-polar disorder and other undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses.

It's impossible to see the slew of suicides and deaths in the NFL, of even the most upstanding players like Junior Seau, and not believe there is a link to the culture of the sport this country loves.

Seau’s story is a long, well-documented one with prolonged bouts of depression and more obvious warning signs. That being said, a Boston University study found a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in 18 of 19 of NFL player brains studied post-mortem.

Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson even shot himself in the chest when he committed suicide so that his brain could be studied. He too had suffered from CTE, a condition caused by the rocking of the brain inside the skull, something that happens to NFL players on nearly every play. It’s why we have new rules against hitting quarterbacks in the head, defenseless receiver rules and helmet-to-helmet rules now in place.

We can’t say for sure Belcher’s actions were caused by brain injuries and Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt said Belcher didn’t have a long history of concussions. It’s certainly possible that an unstable guy just snapped and he happened to be an NFL player, but given the historic examples we have of NFL players and head trauma, there’s reason to believe football very directly caused Jovan Belcher to be the unstable wreck he was when he decided to kill.  

Harry How/Getty Images
Junior Seau has become a lasting image of the kind of psychological damage football can cause

 

The New York Post reported that Belcher was using pain killers and alcohol to deal with the debilitating effects of his head injuries. If those reports are true and Belcher was dealing with serious head trauma while the Chiefs insist he had no injuries, then the Chiefs' culpability in this case burgeons to untenable levels. That would imply they were either negligent in their diagnosis, or they simply ignored the warning signs. Either way, it would be devastating for the team and the league.  

Only in the last few years has the NFL had any interest in protecting the safety of its players, mandating safer equipment and new concussion protocols. Unfortunately, it was the specter of pending lawsuits that likely incited these changes.

Physical head trauma can cause myriad brain problems, this we know for a fact. It's unconscionable then, that the NFL community acts surprised when its players have psychological problems when the brain controls the mind.

It's as if they are oblivious to that which is most obvious.

It doesn't appear, at least as the facts have been laid out so far, anyone with the Chiefs or the NFL did much of anything.

It may be the case that this was an unfortunate case of a young man who had lost the will to live and in a moment of fragility, snapped and committed a horrible and tragic crime. The only person whose acts are clear are Belcher's and to be sure they are as deplorable as any act can be.

 

But the inaction of the team and the league to monitor its players, to me, is equally deplorable and has been for decades. It wasn’t a gun that made Belcher have a mental breakdown, it was simply the vehicle through which he carried out these heinous, violent crimes in the midst of one.

Not having a gun wouldn't have stopped Jovan Belcher from killing his girlfriend and himself, but concern from his team or his league about his health and well-being might have.

Just like it takes a horrifying tragedy to incite the predictable gun-control soliloquy from the professional sports bloviators, perhaps this incident will cause the league to take action as well.

If it doesn't, there will be more examples of men like Junior Seau, Dave Duerson taking their own lives. Now, I hope the NFL will see its own flippant attitude toward its players can and has resulted in the death of others.

For the sake of the game you and I love, I pray that Roger Goodell and everyone involved with the league sees this is an issue we can no longer ignore.

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