KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What could anyone really say? The Kansas City Chiefs had just won their second game of the year, 27-21 against the Carolina Panthers, but then what? You celebrate? You don’t celebrate? You focus on football despite what was on everyone’s minds? Or do you focus on the dead and the grief and the anger?
Kansas City head coach Romeo Crennel focused on all of it. He stepped to the podium after his team’s win and talked about the obvious, about all the aftermath in the 30 hours since Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, before driving to Arrowhead Stadium and in the parking lot of the practice facility — in front of Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli — turning the gun on himself, pulling the trigger and killing himself.
“I want to start with yesterday’s tragedy and remind everybody that it involved two families,” Crennel said. “Our prayers go out to the family of Kasandra Perkins. They are grieving and we send our condolences to their family. Our prayers and condolences go out to the family of Jovan Belcher. They are also grieving. Our prayers and hopes go out to three-month-old Zoey, a little girl who will never get to know (her) mother and father. So we’re grieving for all involved.
“Respectfully to you guys and ladies, I’m choosing not to answer any questions about what I saw yesterday,” he said. “I think you’ll understand that and hopefully you’ll respect my wishes on that because it wasn’t a pretty sight. I’m choosing not to talk about it.”
What more is there? Does it matter that someone decided to hang Belcher’s jersey in the Chiefs locker room? That his No. 59 was there before the game and afterward — that it hung throughout a nearly flawless football game Sunday in which the Chiefs had no turnovers and just one penalty? Does that honor a murderer? Does it remember a troubled and now-lost friend? Can it be both? Is it further proof the game shouldn’t have been played at all — that there is not enough perspective here about a football game that’s no longer important and a dead mother and orphaned little girl who very much were?
Crennel thought the game needed to be played. It had been his call, his and the team captains from Kansas City, and while many of us hadn’t agreed — myself included, strongly — who is it that should make that call?
Before the game, still angry it was being played with all the fanfare and hoopla of an NFL Sunday, a friend approached me in the press box. He told me he thought playing was the right call. I told him he couldn’t be more wrong. I felt self-righteous. He told me his brother had committed suicide several years ago — had in fact shot himself, and that he had been the one to find the body — and that at the time what he had needed to fight the grief, to not be utterly consumed by it, was to go to work. So he understood exactly where the Chiefs were coming from.
So what did I know? What, really, on something like this, can any of us know for sure?
“It’s tough when circumstances happen (and) you can’t undo them,” Crennel said. “So you have to rely on each other, rely on your family and friends and rely on your faith. That’s what the team tried to do today. We tried to work our way through the tragedy knowing it’s not over today, it will go on tomorrow, the next day and the next day. But life is going to go on as well and we have to work through it and that’s what we’re going to try and do.
“As far as playing the game,” Crennel went on, “I thought that was the best thing for us to do because that’s what we do. We’re football players, football coaches, and we play and coach on Sunday. That’s why I wanted to play the game and after talking with captains they also felt like it was best we play. If for no other reason it takes our minds off our misery for a few hours. And that’s what it did. It helped us do that.”
There’s enough misery to go around. There is the misery for Belcher’s family, particularly his mother. She reportedly watched her son shoot the mother of his child nine times. There is the misery for that dead woman — her name is Kasandra Perkins, let it never be remembered less than the name Jovan Belcher — and there is ample misery for her family.
But there is misery, too, for Belcher himself and certainly for his family. I feel the same anger toward him that others do, and the same desire not to idolize a killer simply because he played football. But that doesn’t mean those who knew and loved him shouldn’t be allowed to feel sympathy for him. Does it?
So should his jersey have been hanging in the Chiefs locker room? I have no idea. Are there really any certain answers to any of this? What do any of us really know?
“He and I have grown really close since he’s been on the team, and this is devastating,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “I was once told the hardest thing a person can go through is burying their child, so my heart goes out to their families — Kasandra and Jovan’s families. You can just imagine what they are going through right now, and as a team, we lost a brother. It’s going to take time and life goes on, but we lost a good one.”
What is there to say? Do you shout Johnson down for calling someone who murdered a young woman a “good one?” Do you feel for him, too, because a person he loved is gone? Life is complicated. Especially in Kansas City right now.
Brady Quinn came later, to the same podium where Crennel and Johnson had talked, and no one asked him about his first NFL touchdown throw in three years. No one much cared about football at all, probably Quinn included. Or at least not nearly as much as they normally would. Quinn talked about trying to grapple with this, about how much people in that locker room respected and liked Belcher, about how the team will be setting up a fund for Zoey and how, hopefully, they can be a surrogate family and give her some of the love Belcher stole from her when he turned to that gun.
“Honestly the whole time’s been tough to deal with, but I walked in the locker room and I didn’t look toward his locker,” Quinn said. “Then as I sat down when I first got in I looked across and saw his jersey hanging up and his locker still full of different things and that’s when it hit me.”
So the Chiefs won, they went to 2-10, Brady Quinn had a fabulous game and, frankly, who cares? This was the site of an NFL game where a lot of people were trying figure out how they felt — angry or sad or indignant or lost or shocked or ready to blame or ready to cry — and the particulars on the field seemed pretty meaningless. At least to me. But maybe for those players, like my friend, work was the thing that was needed.
“It was tough,” Quinn said. “It’s an eerie feeling when you win because you don’t feel like you can win in a situation … “
I don’t care one bit that the Chiefs had their best game of the season after this horror, but I don’t blame those who do.
“In tragedies like this, they can either define you or they can redefine you,” Quinn said. “I think this team was able to take an event and allow it to redefine us as a team. We’re battling though a lot of emotion.”
Chiefs co-owner and CEO Clark Hunt added in the locker room: “I was so proud of how everybody, coaching staff and players pulled together, and really put their best effort out there on the field and probably played the best game they played all year.”
Yes, the Chiefs won. Yes, Belcher’s jersey hung from his locker. Yes, some Chiefs talked about what a good guy he was. Yes, everyone I heard expressed deep sadness for Perkins and her family and that little girl. Everyone associated with Chiefs football won a football game and then had to go home and face this new reality one day at a time.
“It’s not over yet,” Crennel said in closing his press conference. “And it might not be over for a long time for some of the guys.”
Not for the guys, not for the Perkins family, not for Belcher’s family, not for Pioli and Crennel and anyone else who watched Belcher kill himself, and not for a three-month-old daughter now orphaned.