Originally posted on December 5, 2012 on an earlier version of this site.
“But you never know what a man is going through. He might come in the locker room, look happy and excited. But at the end of the day when he gets in his car and drives through those gates, you never know.”
“When you ask someone how are they doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth?…Hopefully people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”
Those are the eloquently stated words by Chargers linebacker Demorrio Williams and then Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn, respectively. In the wake of a shocking tragedy that has created riveting discussions nationwide due to the nature of an NFL player committing a murder-suicide, the sincere responses by Williams and Quinn seemingly give credence to existentialist thought. Javon Belcher, a man considered by friends and family an excellent teammate and person, murdered his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, in his home where his mother and 3-month old daughter were present, before driving to the Chiefs practice facility and fatally shooting himself in the parking lot. No one thought this would happen, no one really knows or may ever know what he was going through.
It was known that Belcher and Perkins were having relationship and financial issues, and those closest to them, including the Kansas City Chiefs organization, made a conscious effort to reach out and help the couple by setting up counseling sessions. It would be difficult to assume that these counseling sessions caused a positive or negative effect on Javon, no more than to say whether the argument that took place between the couple prior to the shooting was the match that ultimately set off the chain of events or not.
What makes this all the more confusing is the almost concrete discrepancy between the acts Belcher committed, and the against-all-odds good guy image that he has been characterized by friends, family and coaches dating back to his high school years. Actually, before Saturday it can be argued he epitomized good character and what it means to work hard and achieve your goal. An excellent football player for the University of Maine, Belcher was known for fabulous work ethic and a strong motor. According to this Sports Illustrated article, Belcher even participated in the university’s Male Athletes Against Violence group, which is a group dedicated towards educating men “about their role in the prevention of domestic violence.” An un-drafted rookie out of Maine, Belcher was given a chance by the Kansas City Chiefs GM, Scott Pioli. Known for fabulous work ethic on and off the field and a strong motor, Pioli felt Belcher fit exactly the type of player he was looking to build his team around. Sure enough, Belcher gradually earned his way into a starting spot on certain defensive packages, practice hard, sat in the front row during team meetings, and is unanimously described, in the words of veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson, as “the perfect teammate.” Without the knowledge of the tragedy that has occurred, you would have figured this to be the character make-up of a self-made man, not a murderer.
Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “I say a murder is abstract. You pull the trigger and after that you do not understand anything that happens.”
Again, we can only speculate as to what was possibly running through his head, but once Javon Belcher pulled that trigger, he instantly knew his life had changed. We know he said “I’m sorry” and kissed Kasandra Perkins forehead immediately after her death. We know he drove to the Chiefs practice facility, and after catching Scott Pioli in the parking lot, he called in head coach Romeo Crennel and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs to tell them how thankful he was for the opportunity to fulfill his dream of being in the NFL. He told Pioli, “I love you bro” and asked if Pioli and the owner Clark Hunt would take care of his daughter. Shortly after, he said, “Guys, I have to do this,” and knelt down behind a car and killed himself. This makes it no better what he did to Kasandra Perkins (who should not be forgotten through all this), but this was no cold-blooded murder-suicide.
Do these other actions and characterizations sound like a killer? A bad man? He did something horrible, he did what he thought he had to do, and it was wrong. No matter how good of a person Belcher was made out to be, there is no way to justify leaving behind a 3 month old daughter by forcibly taking the life of her mother and father. However, it is seemingly so that he acknowledged his wrong, and perhaps could not live to tell his daughter someday that he was responsible for the life of her mother. Of course to that end, we may never know. We may never really know the individual behind the football mask.
Self-expression goes both ways in the ability to express it, and the ability to receive that expression. Society today is just starting to recognize the importance of self-expression, a redefining of what makes a man. Look at Junior Seau and the the immense amount of backlash that has erupted from his suicide. Seau’s virtues immortalized him, but also tore him down. He was invincible to us, and that wall allowed no one to see what was happening on the inside. It should no longer be perceived to be the correct way to “be a man” and be impervious to emotional toil in the presence of others. Going back to what Brady Quinn said, he expressed the sentiment that this is also live in a society where social networking and quick responses keep people connected and seemingly maintain relationships, but do not necessarily uncover the truth about those relationships. In world that preaches efficiency and ease of use, it is all the more important to reach out to those you care about, and really mean what you say to help foster a meaningful, truthful relationship. Without connecting on a deeper level and creating those meaningful relationships, you might just never know what another man is going through.