Murder-suicide involving NFL player raises questions about pro-sports culture
Since 2000, more than 500 NFL players have been arrested for more than a speeding ticket according to the exhaustive San Diego Union-Tribune database. Many of those arrests have been for domestic violence complaints, fighting in bars, and gun possession charges.
But the murder-suicide of an NFL player and his girlfriend has rocked the league and raised questions once again about the culture in pro football that may contribute to violent criminal activity.
It began like any other Saturday for the Kansas City Chiefs during the NFL season, their general manager and coach at work early to put final touches on this weekend's gameplan. Then they got a call to hurry to the parking lot.
The two men rushed through the glass doors of Chiefs headquarters and came face-to-face with linebacker Jovan Belcher, holding a handgun to his head.
Belcher had already killed his girlfriend and sped the short distance to Arrowhead Stadium, right past a security checkpoint guarding the entrance. Upon finding his bosses, Belcher thanked general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel for giving him a chance in the NFL. Then he turned away and pulled the trigger.
"I can tell you that you have absolutely no idea what it's like to see someone kill themselves," said Kansas City Mayor Sly James, who spoke to Pioli shortly after the shootings.
"You can take your worst nightmare and put someone you know and love in that situation, and give them a gun and stand three feet away and watch them kill themselves. That's what it's like," James said. "It's unfathomable."
Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn told The Kansas City Star that when the team met later Saturday morning, Crennel broke the news to them.
"It was obviously tough for coach to have to tell us that," Quinn said. "He really wasn't able to finish talking to us. We got together and prayed and then we moved on."
But Quinn said the team was so stunned, it was hard to digest what had happened.
"It's hard mostly because I keep thinking about what I could have done to stop this," he said. "I think everyone is wondering whether we would have done something to prevent this from happening."
The NFL considered canceling the game, but in the end, realized that such a decision would affect the rest of the league and decided to go forward despite the probability that Chiefs players will be in no frame of mind to play a football game.
This latest brush with the law involving a professional football player will reignite the debate about the sense of entitlement that being a pro athlete appears to engender in players. They have been pampered most of their lives and told they don't have to play by the rules the rest of us do. Many of these young men also come from circumstances where violence and guns are common place. Putting the two together is an incendiary combination and can lead to tragedy, as we saw yesterday.
The NFL has been trying to make their players more responsible. Rookies must attend a 3 day conference of intense role playing and instruction regarding how to behave in certain dicey circumstances. (The conference also deals with money management and other more mundane issues.) And just recently, the league has initiated a code of conduct that's supposed to punish violators in a more regular and institutionalized manner.
But from the Superbowl last February to the opening of training camps in July, 27 NFL players were arrested on various charges ranging from DUI to assault. Whatever the league is doing, they're not doing enough to get at the root of the problem; that many players consider themeselves above the law and feel entitled to act out with little prospect of serious punishment.
The Belcher suicide may be a catalyst that forces the league to begin to address this growing problem.