FOX Sports Exclusive
Chiefs face difficult coping process
Jovan Belcher’s arrival at Arrowhead Stadium shortly after the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker allegedly killed his girlfriend Saturday morning was predictable, a sports psychologist said. The troubled player was retreating to a familiar haven before taking his own life.
How the Chiefs organization will now cope with this horrific murder-suicide won’t be so easy to analyze.
Belcher, police said, thanked coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli before shooting himself in their presence at the team’s practice facility adjacent to the stadium.
“That’s his safe place. That was his home,” sports psychologist Doug Gardner told FOXSports.com. “When people are in situations where they are shaken and under stress, they often end up places where they are familiar.”
The suicide came after he allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra M. Perkins, at a home about five miles away.
Now, Crennel, Pioli and the entire Chiefs organization must cope with not only the loss of Belcher, but also with how to memorialize a player whom police say is also a murderer.
“You usually allow people time to talk about the person’s life and share stories,” Gardner said. “You want to honor them. You aren’t going to be able to do that. This is a very difficult situation.
“There may be some symbolic gestures to honor him, but even that’s a difficult decision. You are never going to get around the fact he murdered somebody. The players are going to be conflicted.”
That contradiction already has played out across social media channels, including Twitter and Facebook. Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki sent a Twitter message that said Belcher was “one of everyone's favorite teammates including one of mine” and that the team “will miss him forever.”
He soon was deluged with messages asking why he was showing love for a murderer.
“For the people that misunderstood my intention, I was talking as far as a teammate standpoint,” Moeaki responded on Twitter. “I'm devastated for everyone involved.”
Sunday’s home game against the Carolina Panthers proceeded as scheduled and there was a moment of silence before kickoff. No names were mentioned and the gesture was meant as a tribute to all victims of domestic violence.
Normally, the playing field can be a refuge for grieving players. Under these circumstances, Gardner said this tragedy is complicated by not only by murder, but also the timing: The alleged murder-suicide occurred a day before Chiefs players are expected to perform.
“There are five stages of grief, and the Chiefs are in the first stage at this point: shock,” Gardner said. “People aren’t able to process something like this quickly. People are going to want to look for answers. Was there any way they could have seen this coming? The players will be there physically (Sunday), but not there mentally.”
Also, the site of the suicide — a short distance from where they will take the field — is a factor.
“The stadium is usually a refuge where you can put your mind off something like this for two or three hours,” Gardner said. “The players can’t do that here.”
Broncos receiver Kenny McKinley died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in September 2010. Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was murdered hours after the Broncos’ final game of the 2006 season, in a drive-by killing in downtown Denver.
In November 2007, Redskins linebacker Sean Taylor, who was home in Florida recuperating from an injury, died after he was shot in the leg during a robbery attempt. Bengals receiver Chris Henry died after he fell out of a pickup truck in December 2009.
“You are distracted, and your routine changes,” said former offensive lineman Todd Wade, a teammate of Taylor’s with the Redskins. “You just kind of have to move forward. If there’s one thing about a football season, it's that you have to move on. As callous as that sounds, you do.”
Grief counselors will likely be deployed by the Chiefs, the league and the NFL Players Association, Gardner said. They won’t have an easy task.
“They are going to be asking themselves how could somebody they were close to possess the ability to commit such a heinous act,” Gardner said.