The Kansas City Chiefs played a football game last Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Twenty-four hours Jovan Belcher blew his brains all over the stadium’s parking lot, after murdering 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins, the Chiefs won their second game of the 2012 National Football League season beating the Carolina Panthers 27-21. Life continues to move forward for the Chiefs when the team travels to Cleveland to meet the Browns Sunday. In a season that has been a failure both on and off the field for the Chiefs, there is no game plan for what has happened to the Chiefs in the last seven days.
Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, was the Indianapolis Colts general manager seven years ago when Coach Tony Dungy’s son James committed suicide seven years ago. While far from being similar, Polian looked back on how the Colts dealt with an in-season series of tragic events.
“The task going forward is to try and help the players and staff deal with the enormity of what’s happened, and it’s much more difficult because it’s much more enormous than the loss of one life,” Polian told the New York Times.
“In looking back, I don’t remember a thing that was written or said about it,” Polian said of James Dungy’s death. “Your focus turns inward. There is absolutely no question it takes a while to get past and everything that happens in the N.F.L. is public. But I think the thing readers need to know is that football teams are not 9-to-5 jobs. They’re much more like military organizations. They live together essentially for eight months a year. They form bonds and allegiances and relationships that are very different from the workaday world and so when these things develop, they rely on those that are close to them. So it really doesn’t matter what outsiders think or do or say.”
What took place last Saturday will forever be etched in the mind, soul and conciseness of Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel. Belcher arrived in the stadium parking lot Saturday morning moments after murdering Kasandra Perkins, Belcher met Chiefs general manger Scott Pioli. Pioli called Crennel and Chiefs defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs after Belcher had asked for Crennel and Gibbs.
“I was trying to get him to understand that life is not over, he still has a chance, and let’s get this worked out,” Crennel said Monday, adding that he did not know of any personal issues that Belcher might have had at the time of Belcher’s suicide.
"I didn't know what happened," Crennel said. "All I know is it was a player with a gun and I know that is not a good thing. I've never seen him with a gun, never, ever."
If there is no playbook that can help a coach deal with the aftermath of the Chiefs week, how is Crennel personally dealing with the tragedy?
"My daughters and my wife, they tell me I must be crazy, that something must be wrong with me, but I can deal with stress. I can deal with grief," Crennel said. "So I was dealing with it by trying to be the leader that those young men upstairs need."
Crennel, Pioli and Gibbs, will receive mandatory counseling provided by the NFL, according to NFL's vice president of player engagement Troy Vincent.
"We're always going to say 'I'm OK, I'm good.' ... No, we're not good," Vincent said. "Witnessing that kind of event is horrific. It's not about closing the door, not about being the gladiator, the tough, immortal football player that we've always developed into being. This is serious. This is a mental, visual image that we need to talk through, and this is OK."
As tough as the last week has been for the Chiefs, there are those who have questioned whether or not the National Football League should have played the game in Kansas City. The NFL gave the Chiefs until late Saturday evening if the game would be played. The players believed they were doing what they are paid to do as professional football players – play the game.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t said very much about what took place last Saturday, did offer this comment to Time Magazine.
”My first thoughts weren’t about football at all,” Goodell told TIME in his first public comments since the shocking incident. “This is not a football tragedy. It’s a human tragedy that impacts families, loved ones and an innocent child left behind.”
Would the Chiefs play their game against the Carolina Panthers the next day? “It was ultimately my decision,” he says. “But it was important to get the views of the players and honor their wishes. [Chiefs chairman] Clark [Hunt] got back to me and said [Coach] Romeo [Crennel] and the captains felt that playing the game–being together as a team and a community — was important. So that’s exactly what we did.”
Belcher, 25, became 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 (at the time of his death like Belcher a current NFL player); 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.
There are no suggestions Belcher’s suicide had anything do with head trauma, concessions or the use of any performance enhancement drugs. Belcher was in his fourth year with the Chiefs. His 2012 contract (guaranteed after the team’s first game of the season) paid Belcher $1.92 million. The average NFL career lasts between three and four football seasons. Belcher wasn’t drafted when he graduated from the University of Maine after their 2008 season; Jovan Belcher was nearing the end of his National Football League career.
Belcher enjoyed the all too short NFL players’ experience. Belcher lived the life college football players enjoy. Belcher may have played one or more National Football League seasons, the life, the lifestyle Jovan Belcher had been living was coming to an end. Tragically Belcher’s life ended last Saturday, along with Kasandra Perkins the woman he murdered.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom