Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sports columnists are the only Americans who have any respect for human life

What's the first thing you thought when you heard that Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend, then drove to Arrow Stadium to do himself in?

If you're one to see the bigger picture -- the NFL's ongoing narrative of neglecting mental illness, brain damage and the warning signs thereof, you probably had the same thoughts I did.

Oh man, there's another one.

For whatever it's worth, one of Jovan Belcher's friends got in touch with Deadspin, which posted on this very topic earlier today. To wit:

We asked about the concussion, alcohol, and prescription medication mentioned above: 
When it comes to prescription medication it is unclear from my perspective whether it was diagnosed and authorized by the team or not. However I know he was under the influence of narcotics for pain and I'm sure the toxicology report will reflect this. However, Jovan drank ALOT. On a nightly basis. This is not a mystery as he did so in public and private. 
When it comes to his concussions; if you review the footage of the Cincinnati game he took a few hits to the head directly [...] he was dazed and was suffering from short term memory loss. He could not remember the events that had taken place prior to that game or what he had said to get Kasi to return home.

Nobody who does what this guy did is of sound mind or in possession of all their faculties. I'd go so far as to say that at the time of his actions, this man was mentally ill. I don't think I'm going out on a limb in suggesting that.

Oh, sure it's tragic, too. I'm legally obligated to say that, because if I don't declare that which we all know to be painfully fucking obvious, you can accuse me of condoning murder. But who in their right mind would do that?
 I'm with  on the Jovan Belcher topic. Guy was a dirtbag murderer, not someone to honor.
This popped up on FTC's Twitter feed during the Steelers game yesterday, and I take issue with this because it makes a character judgement of someone who I don't believe was in control of his thoughts or actions. And I said so.
  That's hardly fair. The man was obviously mentally ill. It's not all one or the other.
See, I don't really think that's fair to make character judgments of someone so very obviously brain damaged. I think if you can't make the distinction between someone who kills another person for selfish reasons and a guy whose brain was damaged to the point where it not only shut off his self-preservation instinct but had gone into total self-destruct mode, you don't really understand what you're talking about. And I said as much.

"How can you defend this guy? Your posts are reprehensible!"

My posts remain on our Twitter page, along with these exchanges in their entirety. I'd challenge Cory or anyone else to point out where I defended Belcher or condoned his actions. But that's not the point.

If there's any single thing sports writers love more than crushing the pregame spread in the press box, it's an opportunity, no matter how shaky, to take the moral high ground. This isn't just well-chronicled, it's practically a foundation of the sports blogosphere. You can stand up and condemn this as a senseless act of murder, but then you're not only doing a disservice to the event, to your readers, and to your publication but also to the essence of the issue at hand and to morality on the whole. To ignore the complexity of this event in the name of validating your own overly simplified viewpoint -- namely, that murder is bad -- is not just offensively stupid, it's abjectly selfish.

And because you're so, so sure of how right you are on this one thing, there's no room for discussion of any kind. Yours are the final, definitive words on the topic. Murder is bad, and anyone who does anything other than agree with your second-grade assessment of the circumstance  is automatically wrong, simply by virtue of how right you are. Apart from being small-minded, it creates a false dilemma.

Giger's original issue was that the Chiefs shouldn't have honored Jovan Belcher, either prior to or during this week's game, because a person so terrible deserves no such mention. I'll take that a step further. The Chiefs should not have played their game against the Panthers today.

We see deaths among active athletes from time to time. It happens. I have vivid memories of Joe Girardi, then the Cubs catcher, tearfully announcing to the crowd at Wrigley Field that a game was canceled because of "a tragedy in the Cardinal family," one night in 2003, after Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room. The Angels postponed a game after pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed in a car accident in 2009. When Hornets guard Bobby Phils died in a car accident in 2000, the league canceled two of his team's games. These events, and dozens more like them, are all tragic, but they happen. Car accidents happen. People have inexplicable heart attacks or are killed by drunk drivers. People drown. And most of the time, the people affected are lucky enough to just hear about these things happening rather than see them happen.

That isn't the case here. This guy drove to the stadium and shot himself in front of the coach and GM. 

And his team still played today. But why shouldn't they? Why should an incident of senseless violence and gore on the premises prevent people from getting their football? 

The Redskins played the week after Sean Taylor was murdered. If the Broncos had been a playoff team in 2006-07, they'd have played after Darrent Williams was killed. That's football. And that's why it was so ironic and absurd that before he killed himself, Belcher thanked Chiefs Head Coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli for all they'd done for him.

The NFL has little more regard for its players than most militaristic despots do for the people they rule over. The league has been extremely lucky up to this point, in that a great many of the players whose brains have initiated self-destruct sequences realized something was wrong. Some of them, like Dave Duerson, have left notes to that effect, while others, such as Junior Seau, have merely gone to the trouble of not shooting themselves in the head so that their brains could be sent to Boston and studied. The NFL is not always going to be so lucky, and Belcher's final actions yesterday show as much.

Giger said the Chiefs shouldn't have recognized Belcher during their game today; that such a horrible dirtball of a person was undeserving of a moment of silence before the game or at halftime. The notion that the Chiefs wouldn't address the fact that the back end of a murder-suicide involving one of their starting linebackers took place at the stadium just a day before is patently absurd. And I guess it is worth mentioning, for the sake of the dimmer-witted, that it's possible to separate a troubled, ill man from behavior over which he had clearly lost control. Giger's brand of self-righteous chest-thumping diverts attention from what should (but probably won't) be the real issue here. Thanks to discourse like this, we don't learn anything, and we don't make any headway into diagnosing or fixing real problems. So you can forget about catching the next Jovan Belcher before he snaps; that's the price we pay for letting self-important reactionaries feel good about themselves.

This noise does accomplish something, though. It allows us to conveniently ignore the width and breadth of the problem. The NFL is more than fine with this because the last thing it wants is a challenge to a status quo which affords it a license to print money on the backs of players who burn out faster and harder than anyone else, and do so without the benefit of guaranteed contracts, serviceable pensions or even so much as a second thought. Our curiosity doesn't extend into which players have secret alcohol and narcotics addictions, and we don't care about a player not receiving medical attention if they don't appear on the injury report -- their inability to remember last week's game has no discernible bearing on the performance of our fantasy teams. We just sit there, feet up, beer in hand, content to begin and end our understanding of the tragedy with "THE VIOLENT BLACK MAN IS BAD."

For Jovan Belcher, who, in the weeks leading up to his end, had been dazed and exhibiting symptoms of severe head trauma, who had been abusing pain pills and alcohol and whose personal life appeared tumultuous at best, only to have all of it go totally neglected until he killed his girlfriend and himself, I'd say a moment of silence before a game is the absolute least anyone could have done. 

As is always the case when dealing with questions of players' health, their safety, their families and their humanity, the least is all Jovan Belcher could reasonably expect, and ultimately, all he got.

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