I know that the sports broadcasting world lives in its own little bubble that is usually exempt from tragedy, but when tragedy does burst that bubble, it can show just how inept it is at reporting real news. This isn’t to say any reporters are inept really, just that the system is. The prevailing thought was “oh my God, an NFL player killed himself at an NFL stadium in front of his coaches. That’s horrible.” Horrible as that is, especially for the coaches and team personal, it is nowhere near as horrible as him shooting his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins as many as nine times in front of his 3-month old daughter and his mother. But that was just a side story. An afterword. An “oh, and by the way, he had also killed his girlfriend” that came after the “important news” on the ticker.
Now don’t get me wrong. Suicide is horrible. It’s a problem. I am as sympathetic with those who took their own lives, and their families, as anyone. I went through that. It’s painful. However, the main story shouldn’t focus on the dead football player. Instead of reading “Belcher took his own life after killing girlfriend”, the headlines should have read “Belcher kills girlfriend, then takes his own life.”
Not to mention that this relates to larger social issues in the NFL such as gun violence and domestic violence. I mean, is anybody truly surprised? Anyone remember Chris Henry just three years ago? He was on the back of a pickup truck driven by his girlfriend, who he had fought with, when he fell off and died due to head trauma. Or the story TMZ broke this summer on Chad Johnson? I could name of countless others. And then there’s the ones who nobody knows about, the women (or men; it can go both ways), who are in the worst situation.
Bob Costas took it a step further last night on Sunday Night Football when he said the United States need to reform gun laws. I won’t go too far into it, aside from saying I prefer Canada’s gun policy to America’s. I’m honestly not sure it was the right place to do so, but at least he had something constructive to say that could help. But are guns really the problem? If there wasn’t a gun would have there been a knife? It’s kind of passing off the issue, in this particular situation, that the NFL needs to deal with. Not the government. Of course there are many other cases like this that have no relation to the NFL. However, far too many do for a career that (supposedly) makes its employees very well off. At least Costas did something far too few do; he stood by his words the next day.
Of course the problem isn’t only where the main focus of this story is, but it is also where the secondary story is. Concussions and mental illness in football. Did Belcher have mental issues? Were those caused by playing football? Maybe, we don’t really know. Many seem to want to compare this to other suicides (which is another major problem for the NFL, by the way) when we really have no idea if there are any common factors. And of course all those other connections did have one major difference; none of those players killed someone else first.
The NFL has big social problems. Domestic violence, Driving Under the Influence (which has also resulted in the deaths of innocents in recent years), gun crimes, suicide. Not a year goes by that these issues don’t come up multiple times. They seem like much larger issues in the NFL than in other professional sports. You just don’t see this happening in hockey, soccer or baseball (I honestly don’t follow basketball close enough to know its situation) in North America and western Europe. It’s time for the NFL to step up and do something.
And then there is the women who in a matter of a few hours saw her son shoot her daughter-in-law (who she said she treated like her own daughter) nine times in front of her granddaughter, only to hear that he had killed himself after. And there’s the kid who is without parents (but apparently a good grandmother, at least). It seems that the editorials have finally turned to Perkins and her daughter today, but there is no way it should have taken two whole days for this to happen.
For more on this, take the time to listen to the first segment of Primetime Sports from this afternoon. Bob McCown, Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro had what was probably the most intelligent discussion on this all weekend. You can listen to the 4pm hour from today (December 3) here. Also read this article on ESPNW which goes a bit deeper into some of the issues I have raised.
One last thought that I don’t think anyone has raised. How does someone even get into an NFL stadium with a gun? Belcher didn’t hurt anyone else, but what if he had? What if team staff, stadium staff, reporters and his teammates were in danger? It didn’t happen, but it could have. And it could again. Talk about a problem the NFL needs to fix.