Members of the media gather outside Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday. (US Presswire)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn thought he was in for another ordinary Saturday at the Truman Complex, the Chiefs' practice facility. He was made aware of a very different series of circumstances when he arrived?Saturday morning and found that police had blocked off his parking space.
The complex was on lockdown after 25-year-old Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher took his own life outside the team's offices with general manager Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs as horrified witnesses. He had done so after shooting and killing his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and leaving their 3-month-old daughter without a mother or father.
(Getty Images)Quinn was told by police to park his car up a hill near Arrowhead Stadium, where many of his teammates had already gathered. Crennel told his players what had happened at a 9:30 team meeting.
"It was obviously tough for Coach to have to tell us that," Quinn told the Kansas City Star. "He really wasn't able to finish talking to us. We got together and prayed and then we moved on."
Moving on was all the Chiefs could do. After talking to NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made the call for the team to go on with their Sunday game against the Carolina Panthers, a game the Chiefs will host at Arrowhead. The decision was certainly controversial, and many believe out of place, but it's important to remember that this was a decision the Chiefs made.
[Related: Former Belcher teammate writes about Chiefs tragedy]
As Quinn said, that decision wasn't made without considering all the aspects and angles.
"I think everyone is just so shocked at what had taken place, being who it was and being what had happened. I think people are still trying to digest everything let alone think about playing a game. It's tough to put into words.
"It's hard mostly because I keep thinking about what I could have done to stop this. I think everyone is wondering whether we would have done something to prevent this from happening.
"And then we're all thinking about his daughter, three months old and without a parent. It's hard to not allow the emotions of the situation to creep into your head with the game this close. But we're going to do the best we can to concentrate on the task at hand."
Perhaps the most confounding aspect of this story is that there doesn't seem to be any public record of Belcher having personal issues of any sort -- certainly nothing that would have led those who knew him to think that this was remotely possible. Raibonne Charles, who played defense at the University of Maine with Belcher, told the Kansas City Star that this came out of nowhere.
"This wasn't forthcoming of his character. Jovan is a very passionate, very emotional person, and you could tell that by watching him play the game. But this is a shock to us all."
That has to be a problem, and it leaves Belcher's teammates reflecting on what they could have done to help. Quinn had no idea what was tormenting Belcher. But it's beyond disconcerting when you spend day after day in a locker room and on a field with a man and you don't have any idea what's in his heart until something like this happens.
"As players and teammates, we need to do a better job of reaching out to people and trying to be more involved and more invested in their lives," Quinn said. "You never really know what's going on in someone life, what they're struggling with or what they're battling through."
That's hard to do in an environment where toughness is a primary attribute, and plain is a pure liability. Especially in a grind of a season like the 1-10 Chiefs are going through, it's all to easy to put your head down, soldier on, and miss what's right in front of you.
[Michael Silver: NFL shouldn't force Chiefs to play in wake of tragedy]
Then again, nobody seems to understand why Belcher did what he did. Nobody seemed to see the signs ? if there were any. Belcher's agent, Joe Linta, saw the man and the player in a very different light.
"Jovan was a happy, proud father, with pictures of his baby on his Facebook page," Linta told Sports Illustrated. "This is shocking. Something went crazy wrong, and we'll probably never know what it is.
"He came to my youth clinics in the offseason and worked with kids. He was a gracious, unselfish, hard-working, dedicated kid ? very, very caring of some of the underprivileged kids who came to the clinics. I saw him in a real positive way."
Quinn was with the Denver Broncos when receiver Kenny McKinley took his life in September, 2010, which gives him a different and unfortunate perspective when it comes to losing a teammate like this.
"There's really not any words that can describe the emotions that are involved," Quinn said, when recalling McKinley and trying to tie his suicide to what Belcher did.
"The big thing is [Belcher's] daughter. I know a bunch of the guys are going to try to set up a fund to try to take care of his daughter. Her parents are not in her life anymore."
In the end, that's all the Chiefs can really do. Remembrance is important, especially if something can be learned about counseling for players who need it. Time to heal is key, and the ability to allow oneself to grieve in the season is just as important. NFL players may have it in their heads that they're invincible, and that mindset seems to be a necessity in today's game, but there comes a point when even the toughest guys need to take stock and try to reconcile those things that just don't seem to add up.
Those who are used to ignoring pain need to feel it. Now, more than ever.
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