Jovan Belcher tragedy: Time to examine our gun culture

By now we all know the basic facts. On Saturday, Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed Kasandra Perkins – his girlfriend and mother of his three-month-old child – before driving to the Kansas City Chiefs facility and shooting himself in the head in front of his team coach and general manager.

The shooting occurred a day before the Chiefs were set to play the Carolina Panthers. There was fervent discussion and debate about whether or not the game should go on as scheduled. But of all the articles written on the subject, only one stuck out for making a wider societal connection on this sports issue. It was a piece by Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock. It took the nation by storm Sunday night.

During halftime of Sunday Night Football’s Philadelphia Eagles/Dallas Cowboys game, Bob Costas aired a 90-second editorial commentary about the murder/suicide. In it, he quoted Whitlock, “Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience store confrontations over loud music will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead … Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.”

Other stations were relatively mum on the issue. That is why the brief editorial comments were controversial. Adding to the controversy was that these comments were made in Texas on one of the NFL’s flagship primetime shows on a national television station.

The backlash came quick and heavy. Fox and Friends openly criticized Costas. Videos were uploaded all over the internet calling Costas’ 90-second talk a “rant.” National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre argued that the situation could have been averted if Kasandra Perkins had been armed. Some on sports radio were upset that their sports got politicized, even though Costas’ piece never discussed policy, especially gun control.

Much of the current debate has focused on the issue of guns because we don’t know about the possible effects of concussions/chronic traumatic encephalopathy on Belcher, his state of mind, or what was going on in the interpersonal relationships that precipitated this horrible event. All we do know is that a three-month-old baby is without parents and a firearm was involved in a clear case of domestic violence.

In the aftermath of this most recent tragedy, America is again being prevented from having a real discussion about violence, especially gun violence. After Rep. Gabby Giffords and others were shot, people complained that it wasn’t the time to talk about this issue. Trayvon Martin was killed and the answer to any discussion was still no. After the Aurora massacre, it still wasn’t time. If not then, when?

We need to look at a society where people spend longer times in lines trying to qualify for and receive quality mental health care than it takes to qualify for purchasing a firearm. We need to look at a society that stigmatizes seeking mental health care as weakness and associates guns with masculinity. We need to look at a society that reinforces behavior choices that escalate situations, even if that means violently, rather than using creative and restorative problem solving. We need to look at a society that rewards ruthless competition while undermining cooperation and community.

This debate needs to occur without bumper sticker slogans, without waiting for our pundits, politicians, and talking heads to trot out talking points. The debate on the gun culture and the culture that allows at least one out of every three women to be abused physically or sexually needs to happen as we try to come to grips with this most recent incident that has garnered national headlines. The time is now – before another tragedy.

Photo: Kansas City Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher, at a Sept. 16, 2012, game. (AP/Bill Wippert)


Neil Parthun
Neil Parthun

Neil Parthun is an activist and a sports fan. He attempts to bring these two worlds together with his weekly radio show/podcast/TV show "Not Another Sports Show" and with his writing. His goal is to help build a space that shows people can care about both social justice and sports.