One year after the Jovan Belcher tragedy, an open letter to baby Zoey

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You probably don’t even know how much you miss them yet.
But you will. 
It’s been a year since they’ve been gone, Zoey. A year this Sunday.
By now, you’re walking. Maybe you’re talking. Running like the wind, babbling up a storm, grinning with every step.
We just hope, wherever you are, that you are loved. That’s the most important thing. Now. Forever. Always.
We hope that you will never know the tragedy, that you never feel the pain, of last Dec. 1. Even though you were there.
So much has been written about Jovan Belcher, your father, the late Kansas City Chief linebacker, about how a man so seemingly devoted to the women who were a part of his upbringing — his mother, his sisters — could turn around and murder your mother, Kasandra Perkins. How he could leave the two most important females in his life without a father and without a son. 
 
We live with both sides of the coin inside us, good and evil, forever spinning, hoping for the right side to land face up.
In the case of Jovan, we’re left with fragments from some, silence from others. And when you fit the puzzle pieces together, an idea that football made him rich, that it allowed him to live a dream. And a nightmare. That it might have exacerbated the inner demons that drove him off the edge.
  
A year later, your father has been lumped with greats such as Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, only for all the wrong reasons, men whose brains became so jumbled by repeated batterings that the voice inside their heads told them the only way out was to give in to the darkness, to plunge headfirst, and damn the consequences.
 
It was a selfish act, done out of selfish desperation.
 
Forgive him.
“Everybody was driving in for the walk-through” is how Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt remembers that grey Saturday morning. “(On) I-435. That’s where I was (when I heard).”
He wants to change the subject.
Most of them do. The Chiefs are very different from a year ago at this time, inside the locker room and out. They’re 9-2, tied for first in the AFC West, with a revamped front office, a revamped coaching staff, revamped at quarterback, in the secondary and on the offensive line, a completely revamped outlook.
  
They won’t say it — they would never say it out loud — but what happened with your father, that horrible day, accelerated that revamp; it proved, in hindsight, to be one of the catalysts for change, the impetus to blow up and start over, the straw that broke a broken organization.
 
What had to that point been comic and bumbling and absurd, a lost season, had turned colors, in an instant, to the grim and the tragic.
 
On Dec. 1, 2012, the Chiefs — and everything the Chiefs had become — stopped being funny anymore.
“That’s one of those things that we deal with, that everybody kind of (deals with) in this locker room. And you know, we’ve got to focus on winning games, so everything else, it’s kind of a distraction to put to the outside,” Colquitt continues.
  
And then he becomes serious. For a moment, the veil lifts.
 
There’s more to say. So much more.

But not here. Not in the locker room. Not now.

 
“You know, he was a very good friend of mine,” Colquitt says, quietly.
 
“And we obviously miss him. This organization misses him.”
People outside the organization have told stories since of a young man trying to appease too many masters at once, attempting to juggle workplace pressure, peer pressure, the stigma of being a small-school star from Maine, the losing, the lifestyle, relationships, finances and fatherhood.
A young man who sought refuge in a bottle and found comfort in firearms. All while the coin between good and evil spun in his head, the way it spins within all of us.
 
“I said this when my son died (in 2012), was that sometimes life throws you some curveballs and you can’t bail,” coach Andy Reid says. “You have to stand in there and you have to swing. I thought this organization was phenomenal in how it handled this whole situation. That was a tough thing on everybody.
 
“You’re going to be critiqued in a million different ways, but they handled it so well. They kept this team together, you know (former coach) Romeo (Crennel) and (former general manager) Scotty (Pioli), I mean they kept this team together and probably even brought them closer together, which is a tribute to everybody.”
 
Teammates could have stepped in. Some did.
 
But not before it was too late.
 
Forgive them.
 
“We did make some contact with the Chiefs after this homicide happened, just reaching out with our condolences and our offer of support,” says Joyce Grover, executive director of The Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (KCSDV), a network of 29 service programs statewide. “We really didn’t have any other contact with the Chiefs. At this point, I’m not aware of what they’re doing or how they’re supporting (their players). … I couldn’t really speak to that.
 
“What we know about domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that develops and escalates over time. It’s learned behavior. And someone who is suffering from a head injury, I think that things look a little bit different. … I would be very hesitant to blame domestic violence solely on the possibility of a head injury. I’m certain that there is some crossover, but when you look at what we define as ‘domestic violence,’ we’re looking at a pattern of behavior.”
 
We’re looking for answers.
 
Logic.

Reason.

Closure.

Anything.

 
A mother and father are gone. Only questions remain. Questions and tears.
 
And a brave little girl who will have to be so, so, so much stronger than the daddy who brought her into this world in the first place. And strangers left trying to understand, trying to make sense of the senseless.
 
Forgive us.
 
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter (@seankeeler) or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.