The Chiefs are now caught between remembering a teammate or honoring a murderer
By JEFFREY FLANAGANFS Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At some point, a
Chiefs locker-room attendant will dutifully take away the practice gear and jersey inside Jovan Belcher's locker room stall at the team's practice facility.
Belcher's name plate and No. 59 will be removed as well.
And at the very least that instant reminder of Belcher himself and the unspeakable acts he committed last Saturday morning will be stripped away.
Just exactly when that will happen is uncertain. As of Wednesday, Belcher's stall remained intact right after practice and just before Chiefs players boarded four luxury buses outside the practice facility en route to Belcher's private memorial service at the Landmark International Deliverance and Worship Center in Kansas City.
Chiefs vice president of communications Ted Crews said prior to the memorial service that he wasn't sure when will be the proper time, or who will make the decision, to empty Belcher's locker-room stall. Belcher's locker has remained untouched since last Friday's practice.
"This is all uncharted territory," Crews said.
True, there is no handbook for such matters. But the remaining presence of Belcher's practice gear and his locker has raised questions of whether the Chiefs and their players are simply remembering their former teammate and friend, or unintentionally honoring a murderer and his heinous act.
Those discussions filled local radio airwaves and comment sections online Monday and Tuesday, days after Belcher shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, nine times, then drove to the practice facility and took his own life.
Several Chiefs players interviewed by FOXSportsKansasCity.com on Wednesday after practice said they have not been asked by Chiefs management regarding what to do with Belcher's locker stall.
"It doesn't bother me having it there because I don't look at it," said linebacker Justin Houston, whose locker is across the room from Belcher's. "I try my hardest to look away and look another direction. When I don't have to think about it, I'm all right, so I look away."
The lockers of fullback Peyton Hillis and offensive tackle Eric Winston are just a few feet away from Belcher's.
"It would be kind of hasty to just clean it out right away," Winston said. "There's no protocol on how to handle or deal with this stuff. We're just learning as we go along. You just kind of do it by feel and hope you do the right thing and go the right decision."
"To me, I think it's best to remember him," Hillis said. "I think it's best to see his locker and remember what he represented for this team. It's good for this team to remember that if we can play like Jovan, we'll be a good football team."
But Chiefs players are wary that his locker might be perceived as a memorial to a murderer.
"It's hard to reconcile the man you knew with what he did," Winston said. "That's what we're processing, still."
Added Hillis, "No doubt about that. But to some of these guys, they knew Jovan better than others. It varies from person to person to person on how they feel having it there."
Nose tackle Dontari Poe also doesn't mind having Belcher's locker intact for now.
"It doesn't hurt," Poe said. "When you walk by it, you think about him. You think about him being there, sitting there. It's on (management) when they take it down, but I have no problem with it."
And Poe said he doesn't think about what Belcher did last Saturday morning.
"That part of it has nothing to do with me," Poe said. "Whatever happened, happened. From my point of view, I respected him. I loved him. He was one of my brothers. Whatever they do (about the locker) is up to them. I'm just trying to show my respect."
That showing of respect was evident Wednesday when most of the Chiefs players boarded buses to Belcher's memorial service. It was the continuation of healing for them, and perhaps the start of some closure.
"With every ending comes a new beginning," Hillis said.
Said Poe, "Hopefully, it will be a start (to closure). But at the same time, we've been trying to heal since all this happened and it takes time.
"It's never going to be like it was before. But then, you have to keep moving forward. You don't want to forget your teammate and your friend, but you have to move forward."
Retired Chiefs Hall of Famer Bobby Bell told the Associated Press after the private, hour-long service that general manager Scott Pioli, who witnessed Belcher's suicide, spoke during the service. Bell said an uncle of Belcher also spoke.