Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Sobering Weekend at Arrowhead
by Jeff Herr,posted Dec 3 2012 2:07PM
As a blogger I have a luxury that full-time, salaried journalists don’t typically have. Namely, I don’t have to write about everything. When truly horrific or tragic events happen our responses are often times “I don’t have words.” Yet, many journalists are tasked with coming up with words, many of them, to encapsulate the situation and try to help people understand the world that has seemingly gone haywire around them. For that reason true journalism will always be a powerful thing as these wordsmiths are able to help us gain a greater understanding and get a handle on these situations. When events like the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky event took place or the Bernie Fine situation at Syracuse that continues to develop , or the recent suicides that have happened with former professional football players they’re hard to write about.
The murder-suicide that happened this past weekend with Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins being in our very city, it makes it hard not to write about. I don’t know that I can offer a greater understanding or help anybody cope with such an event as a murder-suicide but I can put my thoughts down on paper and hope to provide some perspective, however limited it might be.
Waking up Saturday I had some errands to run. I ran them with my girlfriend and returned home around 10:45 and fired up Twitter for the first time of the day. It was at that point the myriad of Chiefs followers and local media I followed had taken over my timeline with news so horrific I couldn’t possibly fathom that it actually happened. As I scrolled through tweet after tweet the news became more clear. Belcher had shot his girlfriend multiple times in front of her mother, driven to Arrowhead, had a gun to his head, was trying to be talked down by head coach Romeo Crennell and General Manager Scott Pioli and then took his own life right there in the practice facility parking lot.
The news was chilling to say the least. We are trained as fans to look at football players are meta-humans. They are people with unbelievable talent and skill that the other 99% doesn’t possess. They are paid accordingly. It’s easy to look at them and think that everything must be great. They are playing a game they love for a living, they are getting paid handsomely for it, and they have the adulation of thousands every week. It’s often hard to look underneath and see the player for who they really are as a human being.
Words get thrown around that one player is a “great guy on and off the field,” or that another player is a “clubhouse cancer.” These things are looking beyond the physical skill-set, but still only see things as a subset of their total package as a football player. The word “gladiator” often gets thrown around about these individuals and there’s a modicum of truth to that. They’re job is to entertain and that is exactly what they do. A byproduct of that is a little bit of their humanity is lost.
Players are defined by who and what they are on the field. I am an accountant by day, a blogger by night, a son, a brother, a friend and last but certainly not least a boyfriend to an amazing girlfriend. I am all of these things but not any one in particular. By that I mean that I don’t completely define my existence as any singular aspect. All of these are pieces of who I am that make up my whole. It seems that athletes don’t really have that luxury these days.
These players are forced to define themselves by their talent. They are a football player on and off the field. Think about how many times you hear of players being harassed by people at bars or clubs or even when they’re grocery shopping. Part of this comes with the territory of being an athlete and an entertainer. Even still, there are consequences to not being able to disconnect yourself.
Brady Quinn said it best in his post game speech when he said that often people ask “how you doing?” or answer “doing fine,” but how often do we really mean those? When you ask somebody do you really want to know how they’re doing? When you tell somebody you’re “fine” are you telling the truth? We all put on different faces in different situations. What you ultimately hope is that those faces don’t turn into a mask that hides what’s really going on.
Belcher seemed to be wearing a mask. Nobody saw this coming and certainly people are still in shock. In just a short time period Belcher went from athlete to murderer. There is a sentiment out there that he was a troubled man and deserved a level of sympathy. There is other sentiment out there that he no longer as the right to sympathy after pulling the trigger on his girlfriend and leaving his three month old baby parentless.
In this situation, with the information we have its simply not clear enough to fully understand. It’s certainly easy to judge in this scenario. It’s easy to label and say that this man is a murderer. It’s easy to judge the other players for making t-shirts and offering up their prayers and respect for this man they came to know as a brother. What’s not easy is to try to understand a situation that is not strictly black and white.
After such an event, playing a game roughly 28 hours later seemed like the last thing anybody would want to do. But this aspect wasn’t quite that simple either. The logistics of an NFL game are large and having to move them on such short notice would no-doubt have been a large undertaking. There were definitely lots of things to consider when trying to decide to play the game.
I personally don’t believe it should have been played. There is an argument to be made for needing and having an escape from life's problems. Sports has typically been that escape for many people. But 28 hours after the fact just isn’t enough time. Many people won’t even be able to process such a horrific and awful event in that timeframe. I had no specific involvement and I’m still trying to process.
Apparently, the vote went to the team captains to help make the decision to play and they all voted to move forward as scheduled. It was former Kansas City Star columnist Kent Babb who made the salient point on twitter that these men are trained from a very young age to go no matter what, so if left up to them of course they would say to play. It comes back to them being “gladiators” and “warriors.” They are conditioned to “ignore the pain.” Athletes aren’t allowed to be vulnerable or ask for help as that would be a show of weakness. While the athlete culture isn’t entirely to blame for what happened, I don’t think its a stretch to say it had something to do with what Belcher did.
Many players have come out and admit that they either have or would lie about concussions or injuries to get back on the field. Players routinely take shots of cortisone to hide their pain and get them back into action. They will often not cop to injuries to keep their spot and not show weakness. If we aren’t allowing athletes to disconnect from their life, how can they let themselves? This attitude most likely translates into everything they do and someone like Belcher can’t or won’t admit he needs help.
If there’s a takeaway from all of this, that has to be it. Nobody is alone in this world. The very players who are being criticized for making t-shirts in remembrance of Belcher would have been there to help if he would have asked. Maybe they should have seen signs and maybe they should have tried to get him help but we can’t speculate on those issues. The point here is the man needed help and didn’t get it.
Belcher’s acts were heinous. There is no excuse for what he did. Many have and will have opinions on his actions. I have my own. But now is not a time for judging. Now is a time to fight for understanding and to learn. It is a time to realize that your actions have consequences. An innocent woman died and a beautiful baby girl will not have parents growing up and will one day hear what her father did. I can’t imagine that scenario.
The world is not cut and dry. There are things that often fall in the margins that are hard to explain or comprehend. What’s more important than labeling here, whether it be “gladiator,” “athlete,” “murderer,” or anything of the like is to strive for understanding so we can learn from this situation.
Mental illness and the people that are dealing with tough times won’t go away after this story leaves the mainstream media attention. Our focus on helping people that need it and understanding the warning signs shouldn’t either. No matter what people choose to define others as we are all human underneath and all have issues that we have to deal with. Life can throw big ones and small ones at you but everyone has people to help them out. The key is finding it when you need it so that life doesn’t come down to a series of horrific events.