Monday, December 3, 2012

Musings from a Chiefs fan

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.


Anonymous said...

To answer #1 - I think part of the issue I had with the Chiefs playing was how it might make the family of the victim feel. I'm sure the Chiefs were in shock as well, but her family was still dealing with the fact they had lost a beloved family member and I feel it may seem to them that the NFL, the Chiefs and the fans do not care since it was business as usual on Sunday. There is nothing smug about wanting to be respectful of others feelings during a tragedy.

I'm also uncomfortable with your analysis of the domestic violence issue. Of course it isn't okay to hit anyone. But overwhelming it is men who are hitting women and we need people to hold them accountable. And if telling people if you commit an act of domestic violence against your wife or girlfriend or causal acquaintance then you cannot play on my team gets the message across I have no issue with the sentiment. I just don't think you can solve such a problem by using gender neutral language. I also don't think women take such a message as a blank check to start hitting men. And I certainly don't feel that a person who engages in domestic violence is sizing up their opponent and deciding they are a big girl and can take a punch. It's about power and humiliation. Not the size of the person you are fighting.

S said...

None of the people I heard insisting the game shouldn't be played said one word about respect for the victim's family. Specifically, Jason Whitlock wrote about the need to be introspective about the gun culture permeating the NFL. I don't think that's fair to put that burden on the Chiefs over an act they had nothing to do with.

Obviously, my point on the domestic violence issue isn't that domestic violence isn't a real thing or isn't a problem, etc. I just think there's an overall violence problem and focusing solely on "it's not ok to hit a girl" leaves open the possibility that it is ok to hit a man. It isn't.

Also, I have heard people attempt to justify domestic violence by indicating things like "she gave as good as she got" or "she's the same size as me." It absolutely does happen. Of course it's about power and humiliation, but that doesn't mean that's how the abuser recognizes it.

On my team, I don't want any player who commits an act of violence against anyone, be it wife, girlfriend, child, mother, casual acquaintance, teammate, or random person at a bar. I'd have a lot more respect for a coach who said that.

S said...

To be clear, I'm all for people talking about domestic violence, helping people recognize the signs of an abusive relationship, and giving them the tools for getting out. I just don't want to see it limited by gender because men can be the abused, as well. (Think how awful it would be to be the abused man hearing his coach saying, "No one who puts his hands on a woman is welcome in my locker room." Is that coach unintentionally telling that player he has to take the abuse?)

And I don't want to see the NFL lose sight of the overarching problem of violence and the use of guns among its players. They, and we, should take ALL violence seriously.

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