Kassandra Perkins is dead and a baby is orphaned. We know about this because the person responsible plays professional football. It was the biggest story in the world because the final act of violence took place at America’s last unanimous holy site—a professional football stadium.
It’s particularly horrific not only because of those dead, but also because of those left living: a mother who saw her son kill the mother of her grandchild; a group of men who brought the murderer to Kansas City—allowing him to start the family that he ended Monday morning—who watched a lost, desperate man turned monster, shoot himself in the head; and, of course, the poor little baby. The baby who one day is hopefully a happy, well taken care of, healthy kid, but will inevitably ask, “What happened to my Mom and Dad?”
Was Jovan Belcher a coward? Sure. I think that’s more than fair to say. In fact, I would go as far as to say any man—especially a man as physically imposing and dominant as Belcher was—that hits or batters or physically abuses any woman is a coward, so of course a man who shoots the supposed mother of his child is a coward.
But that isn’t what people seem to be calling the cowardly act that Belcher committed. Yes, the murder of Kassandra Perkins is being called monstrous and horrific and unthinkable. But when people call Belcher a coward—as many have in the past 48 hours—they seem to be speaking exclusively about the second act of violence he committed Saturday morning: shooting himself in the head. And this I have a problem with.
Suicide is many things. The first word that comes to mind is selfish. The next word that comes to mind is heartbreaking. The third word that comes to mind, my mind at least, is darkness. But “coward” just doesn’t register, at least not to me.
Many might be reading right now wondering, what the hell does any of this matter? A man killed a woman and left a baby without parents and traumatized many other people; leaving those people with an image they will struggle with for the rest of their lives. This is all true. But I do think the “coward” designation deserves some discussion.
People that deal with depression or mental illness are not cowards, and those that finally give in and give up are not cowards, either. And simply brushing off every suicide, no matter the circumstances surrounding it—whether it is a kid that was bullied, a man that lost his house to crippling debt, or a football player that just shot his girlfriend nine times—as “cowardly” acts does not help anyone.
How should Jovan Belcher be remembered? This, again, is a much more complicated proposition than most are giving it credit for. Of course, Belcher will be remembered for that monstrous, selfish and violent morning by the vast majority of people who ever hear his name. In fact, for upwards of 99% of the population, it is all they will ever know of him. Jovan Belcher was a monster and a murderer and because of his selfishness a child is left parentless and multiple families traumatized.
But what if you are part of one of those families? If you are Jovan Belcher’s mother—who reportedly was at the house when he killed Ms. Perkins—are you not allowed to proudly remember the first 25 years and 135 days of your son’s life when he was, by all reports, as good a child and citizen as anyone could ask for?
What if you are one of his teammates, who never saw Belcher act violently except for when performing his job which demands it? Are you allowed to still call him a friend? Are you allowed to talk about the good he did, or, God forbid, talk about how much he loved his daughter?
Obviously, for those of us on the outside, Jovan Belcher will be known for Saturday morning. And maybe, even for those on the inside, that is all he will be remembered for as well. You can, clearly, erase an entire life of seemingly being a decent human being by one morning when you transform into a monster.
But if you actually knew Jovan, and saw him do acts of goodness, saw him love his daughter, saw him try to live a good life, are you a monster for wanting to remember that Jovan? Is that disrespectful to the Perkins family and that helpless little baby? I, honestly, don’t know the answer to that question.
Some of these points are nuanced, some of these points, I’m sure, are asinine, and some you may plain disagree with. Unfortunately, none of these points are really being discussed today, and I don’t expect that they will be.
Instead, we find something about this that’s debatable, and start yelling at each other. Should the game have been played at all!?!? (Yes, but not the next day.) Are guns really to blame here?!?!?? (No, and unless you are proposing banning all hand guns in all circumstances, Jovan Belcher would have gotten his gun. He was a well-educated, never arrested, high profile person with every reason to believe he might need a gun for personal protection.) Should we even be debating guns during Sunday Night Football and Bob Costas and Jason Whitlock are idiots!?!??!?! (Few things infuriate me more than the “Stick to sports!!!” crowd.)
Kassandra Perkins is dead. A baby is without parents. Countless lives are forever altered and some, likely, outright ruined. This happened because of the selfishness of one man. One man who had supposedly never displayed anything that would make you think his is capable of something like this. And that final point—the point that reportedly there were no warning signs, no pattern of behavior or mental illness or anything—is the most frightening of them all.