So, you all know I'm a Chiefs fan. Even in this season of awfulness, I still watch every game, read the articles in the paper, and wear my Chiefs earrings every game day. And you know I'm a defense attorney who always sees people as multi-dimensional creatures who are so much more than the worst thing they've ever done. And I've long complained about our national lack of sympathy for and treatment of those dealing with mental illness. You may not have known that I am also a trained suicide counselor who volunteered at a crisis hotline for years, so I have actually spoken to people who had the pills or the gun or the plan in hand. (Happily, all of the phone calls I personally took of that nature ended pretty well.)
Given all that, it's probably easy for you to guess that I might have some thoughts about what happened in Kansas City on Saturday. It was definitely shocking to learn that a player I'd been following for 4 years had shot and killed his girlfriend before driving to the stadium and killing himself in full view of the head coach and the general manager. Throughout the day yesterday, shock seemed to be the prevailing reaction from all the local tv and radio personnel as well as the national sports anchors who talked about the incident. There was a lot of head-shaking, a lot of confusion about why on earth this had happened, and a lot of uncertainty about how to respond.
Even now, I'm not sure where to go with a blog post, because I've got about 5 directions my rant could go.
1) I'd like to rant at all the pretentious, smug, self-righteous, cruel jerks who are proclaiming so loudly that the Chiefs shouldn't have played their game yesterday. I'm looking at you, Jason Whitlock, among others. The reasoning goes that because a young woman was murdered and her 3 month-old daughter was left orphaned, a game no longer matters. I get that impulse, really. But get over yourselves, people. What the hell else were all those Chiefs players and coaches supposed to do yesterday? Sit at home with their families and stew? Haven't these people ever heard of my two favorite coping mechanisms: distraction and denial? It's entirely probable that the ONLY thing that got some of those teammates who were closest to Belcher and the coaches who witnessed his suicide through the day was having that game to focus on for a huge chunk of it. It would have been cruel to deny all those men the one thing that could make that day tolerable. Just for what, to prove some point about how serious this incident was? As if everyone connected to the Chiefs doesn't already get that? Interviews with the Chiefs players make it clear that they to a man wanted to play the game. Because the alternative, postponing or even canceling the game, was unbearable.
2) I'd also like to rant against those people who seem to think that because Jovan Belcher committed murder, his family, friends, teammates, and everyone else should now write him off as an evil SOB and never mention him again. That anyone who expresses any sympathy for his family or for him or ponders how much pain he must have been in to do this act or says that he wasn't all bad is a pathetic sports fanatic who puts men on pedestals for playing a game. There is nothing wrong with sympathizing with the family members of a murderer, with acknowledging that they must have some very conflicting emotions. Those people who are close to murderers shouldn't be expected to forget all the good, kind things they did before they committed murder. So, yeah, if Chiefs players want to express kind thoughts about their teammate, that's ok and no one should confuse that with condoning murder.
3) In reading stories today, I read one focusing on the problem of domestic violence in the NFL. I don't disagree with that, but I get a little frustrated with some of the language that is used around domestic violence. There is a bigger problem that gets lost when we only talk about there being a domestic violence problem with professional athletes. So often, these conversations knock a big, strong football player who puts his hand on a woman. One pro coach has apparently said no one who hits a woman is welcome in his clubhouse. Every time I hear a comment like this, I get angry. Because it suggests that it would be (or at least could be) ok for a big, strong football player to put his hands on a man. Or to hit a man. It isn't. It isn't ok to hit anyone. (And, btw, when we limit it to men shouldn't hit women, we're a) making it ok for women to hit men and b) leaving it open for a man to think, "This woman is as big or strong as a lot of men, so hitting her is fine.")
It seems to me the NFL has a violence problem, period. Or rather American professional sports does. They all own guns. Lots of guns. Today at a Chiefs' player press session, one of the players expressed complete and total amazement when the reporters indicated that, no, they don't all own guns and carry them everywhere they go. Plaxico Burress carried a gun. Look where it got him. (Shot himself and landed in prison for 2 years.) Seems to me a lot of pro athletes could stand to learn the lesson that you should never resort to pulling out a gun or your fists to solve your problems, whether your problems are in a personal relationship or in a NYC nightclub. Maybe there's something about the American pro sports culture that leaves the athletes with a severe deficit in their problem-solving skill set.
4) Someday, I will go on a full tear about how angry it makes me when people call suicide a "selfish" or "cowardly" act. To call it that is rude, insensitive, obnoxious, and a load of other bad adjectives. You might disagree with me (you'd be wrong), but even if you're just darn sure that suicide is the most selfish thing a person can do, at least do me this: Please, for the love of all that is good, don't ever say that to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. It's incredibly unkind.