Mark Wiedmer: Jovan Belcher tragedy isolated incident or bad NFL sign?

Mark Wiedmer: Jovan Belcher tragedy isolated incident or bad NFL sign?

December 4th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Jovan Belcher

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Though both men played linebacker in the National Football League, Eddie Moore never knew the Kansas City Chiefs' Jovan Belcher.

So the former University of Tennessee star and three-year veteran of the Miami Dolphins was understandably reluctant to speculate about what made Belcher murder his girlfriend before taking his own life Saturday morning.

But that doesn't mean Moore -- now a bank executive in his hometown of South Pittsburg, Tenn. -- hasn't seen the dark side of professional football more times than he would like.

"You saw it a lot," he said of the pressures that can overwhelm young multimillionaires who know their next paycheck may be their last.

"Most people think playing pro football isn't a real job. It's a game. We're just entertainers. And that's not so. The pressure to do a good job, to provide for your family, sometimes your friends, is tremendous. It wears on you."

Maybe it wore on the 25-year-old Belcher and maybe it didn't. Explanations for this senseless tragedy have been next to nonexistent so far.

All we know for sure is that Belcher murdered Kasandra Perkins early Saturday morning as his mother and 3-month-old daughter Zoey were nearby. He then drove five miles to the Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium, where he thanked general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel for his time with the organization.

When police arrived minutes later, Belcher retreated behind a parked car and ended his life with a single gunshot to his head.

In words that have been echoed again and again over the past 72 hours, Belcher's agent, Joe Linta, told Sports Illustrated: "Never until four hours ago (when he first learned of the murder) did I think Jovan was anything but a model citizen. Something went crazy wrong, and we'll probably never know what it is."

What is most wrong in all of this is that the murder of Perkins is yet another example of too many male athletes' continuing violence toward women.

They may not all end up dead, as Perkins, former Carolina Panthers player Rae Carruth's pregnant girlfriend and O.J. Simpson's wife did (though Simpson has never been convicted of murder).

Some are beaten. Others are terrorized by threatening words and physical intimidation. Almost all live in fear of these physically overpowering men, though they're often incapable of summoning the courage to leave.

But all are victims who need serious and immediate help and education, which neither the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball seem inclined to strongly recognize.

In her excellent Monday column for ESPN.com, Jemele Hill wrote that statistics accumulated by the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes found that while 80 percent of the general population is convicted when charged with assault, only 38 percent of athletes are.

She also spoke to Don McPherson, a former NFL quarterback and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. While recognizing that the NFL discusses domestic violence with its rookies, has toughened its personal-conduct policy and even has trotted out Eli Manning to appear in a White House public service spot against violence, McPherson told Hill he didn't believe enough was being done.

"It's easier for the NFL to wear a pink ribbon and say they support women that way as opposed to aligning themselves against violence," McPherson said. "If they align against domestic violence with a feminist organization, they begin to chip away at the image that is a direct link to their fans."

To prove McPherson's point, Hill noted that when domestic violence advocates asked the NFL to wear blue ribbons to honor Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, the league declined, opting to wear only pink ribbons for cancer awareness.

Then there is the NFL's gun culture, everything from Plaxico Burress shooting himself at a nightclub to suicides by Junior Seau and Dave Duerson to the murder of Sean Taylor.

Yet when Chiefs defensive tackle Shaun Smith was asked Monday about guns, he complained, "You never know when someone would try to rob you. ... Just because we're in the NFL, that doesn't make us no different. I've worked hard. ... I'll be [darned] if I'd let someone just take it away from me, period."

Ever hear of a bodyguard, buddy?

Sadly, the only certain truth is that Belcher used a gun to take away his daughter's mother and father, and whatever the reason, there's no reason worth two people's lives.

Said Moore: "A lot of people put on a happy face -- not just football players, but people in everyday jobs. Their lives are falling apart and you never know it."

Until something goes crazy wrong and it's too late to help.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com