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by Dr. Boyce Watkins
My heart stopped beating for a few moments after hearing about the murder-suicide of 25-year old Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs. For reasons yet to be determined, Belcher made the tragic decision to kill the mother of his child (22-year old Kassandra Perkins) and then himself. All of this happened in front of the people he cared about, starting with his own mother, and eventually the coaching staff of the Kansas City Chiefs.
After Belcher took his life at the Chief’s facility, the world was left to sort out the aftermath of a tragedy that has befallen a city that is all too familiar with senseless death. The streets of Kansas City run warm with blood every single day of the week, and much of that blood once ran through the body of an African American man, woman or child.
Belcher’s situation was even more heart-breaking for me because it reminded me far too much of my own life. I remember being 25-years old, living with my then 22-year old girlfriend, with a young baby in the house. Our love was deep, but we didn’t know how to express it without hurting one another. I thought about the chaotic nights, the yelling, tears and agony and I am amazed that we were both able to make it out of that situation alive. In that regard, I empathize with this young couple to the core of my very soul.
But there is another part of me that feels concerned that some of us may not remember who the true victims are in this situation. Kassandra was the ultimate victim of domestic violence, since there aren’t many things you can do to a person that would be worse than killing them. In too many cases, women who are harmed by rich and famous athletes are swept under the rug, as the rest of us are disappointed because our favorite team might not win the next game. A perfect example was when the rapper Eazy-E and former NBA star Magic Johnson were both diagnosed with HIV. In all the sadness about their situations, no one thought about the nameless faces of the hundreds of women who were infected along the way.
Belcher is a victim, yes. There may be some mental illness or brain injury that led him to make his unfortunate decision. Former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson shot himself last year after dealing with the psychological ramifications of being hit in the head on a repeated basis. Perhaps this played a role in Belcher’s actions.
Also, Belcher was young and might have had difficulty understanding the long-term implications of his actions. Our hearts should go out to Belcher and his mother, who has now taken custody of the child. I can’t imagine how this woman is going to tell her granddaughter about her father’s actions, for that conversation will be coming in about five years. I just hope that she is able to tell the truth without the poor girl having to surprise herself with brutally honest details on the Internet.
But to be truthful, I don’t feel sorry for Belcher, since every man in America has had his heart broken during a relationship. In fact, if he wasn’t the victim of any form of mental illness, I’m highly disappointed in him. Great football players are warriors and expected to be mentally tough, even during the most difficult of circumstances. The decision of a man to commit such a heinous act and orphan his newborn child, quite honestly, wreaks of the type of selfishness I’ve seen in far too many relationships. I had a colleague with a promising career in academia, whose husband did the same thing, leaving both of his children without either parent for the rest of their lives. It’s hard to imagine any parent doing this to their child, no matter how bad things have become.
I wish Belcher had at least thought about his daughter before killing the child’s mother. Whatever went on at the Trey Songz concert on that fateful night could not have been bad enough for him to solve a temporary problem with such a damning and permanent solution. Even when facing the consequences of his actions, I wish Belcher could have saved the only parent his daughter had left. At the very least, all of us should make sure that as we memorialize Jovan Belcher for his troubles, we also take a second to remember that the greatest victims in this tragedy were the two most important females in his household.
This incident was painful for everyone involved and a lesson for all of us. Let’s not be afraid to learn these lessons, even if they lead to difficult discussions. Domestic violence is serious and destructive, and we must educate ourselves on how to avoid outcomes that are similar to this.