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KC tragedy calls attention to NFL issues

December 4, 2012
By Kellie Goodman Shaffer ( , The Altoona Mirror

We awoke Saturday to the tragic news of the murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who shot himself at the team training facility after killing his girlfriend earlier that morning.

While the team, including coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, who both witnessed the suicide, struggled to make sense of the incident, news reports began to dig deeper into possible related issues. Certainly, when two young people lose their lives in what seems like a senseless act of violence, society tends to want an answer as to why.

Bob Costas discussed the issue of gun control on NBC's Sunday night NFL broadcast. Cable news channels delved into previous NFL-player suicides, including that of Junior Seau earlier this year. Other reports discussed the possible impact of traumatic brain injury on NFL players, speculating that TBI may have contributed to Belcher's actions, as well as the possible use of drugs and alcohol.

From broadcast and print accounts from his teammates and friends, the violent acts were out of character for the 25-year old college graduate and former undrafted free agent, while lost in much of the media coverage was respect for the life of 22-year old Kasandra Perkins, mother of his 3-month old daughter, cut sadly short.

As side stories continue to multiply out of this unthinkable act, it should also serve to remind us that under the Under Armour, behind the million-dollar paychecks and the luxury cars, NFL players are human beings.

While many pro athletes enjoy tremendous fame and fortune, there is often a price to pay for competing at the highest levels. For every dollar an athlete makes, there is unaccounted for pressure: to perform, to excel and to act in a way becoming of our favorite teams. It's easy to see how physical and emotional stress could lead to the use of pain killers, alcohol and other substances.

This is in no way meant to excuse the actions of someone who took the life of another but simply to state that this terrible incident, while unfortunate, should not lead to an indictment of the NFL as whole, nor to football players in general.

Could Belcher have acted in this manner if he were a doctor, a teacher or a construction worker? Perhaps ... or maybe not. Will a statistically high percentage of professional football players commit acts of violence? Perhaps ... or maybe not.

The Belcher incident, as well as other NFL tragedies should lead to research about traumatic brain injury, and about the impact that the ferocious game of football and its culture may have on its participants. These factors may or may not have led to a young man in Kansas City taking his life and that of his girlfriend, leaving his baby girl with no parents. We may never know.

But this tragedy has also revealed the softer side of the NFL, as the Kansas City Chiefs describe dealing with their loss "as a family," while opening a conversation about what could have been done to prevent this terrible incident from happening in the first place.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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