It is hard to remember a story like Jovan Belcher’s without being stunned by how many details of its hideous end have been released so quickly.
And how, when it all shakes out, we’ll not be sure of what we think we know. For that, we need to remember Junior Seau.
Through exhaustive reporting, most of it done by the Kansas City Star, we have a fairly comprehensive picture of a troubled athlete with relationship issues, financial issues, substance abuse issues, and despite help from the team, coping problems as the swirl of conflict overwhelmed him and caused him to kill the mother of his child and then himself.
An autopsy may take weeks to sort out, but he may even have had trauma issues related to football. As yet, there is no evidence of that, as that would only come out in an autopsy, but we know not to blithely dismiss it as a potential cause any more.
But until we know all there is to know, we are left in an odd sort of neither/nor, where Belcher is not safe to be lionized OR demonized. Witnesses saw him kill Kasandra Perkins, which makes him a murderer. Witnesses saw him kill himself, which means he has left his child without parents. Witnesses have spoken of his ongoing struggles and how they overwhelmed him to the point where he could kill his girlfriend, then kiss her on the forehead and apologize, first to her and then to his mother.
The details are sufficient that you can almost see the deeds in your mind’s eye. Unlike most killings, this was done without an attempt to conceal. It was one last attack upon the demons, then surrender to them.
And it still doesn’t make him a sympathetic figure. Indeed, the reaction to Belcher even in the NFL community, where mythmaking is king, has been muted. Though some in the industry tried to handle this merely as the death of a player, Tom Jackson of ESPN made a point to honor Perkins’ memory. The Chiefs held a moment of silence before Sunday’s game not for Belcher but for the victims of domestic violence. For once, everyone seemed to get it. Sort of.
Because the back end of this has not yet been learned. The why. And yes, the why matters.
What we have learned about trauma in football is that it doesn’t hit only men in their 50s and 60s. It strikes when it strikes, and it is as capricious as it is cruel. The famous are not spared any more often than the anonymous.
This is among the things that Seau taught us. He also taught us not to believe our first impressions about how easily the limelight distorts one’s vision, comprehension and even sense of self.
But ultimately, he taught us not to dismiss the possibility that football can kill just as easily as anything else. Again, we know nothing about Belcher except the outward manifestations of his anger and grief. He killed two people, and didn’t try to get away with it, a level of despair so profound that it scares everyone around it.
In other words, this may not be brain trauma-related. It may be just someone who, in vernacular, snapped so violently that he did the unthinkable, twice.
But until we know what the autopsy tells us, we cannot know just how much to condemn the sinner, if at all. Condeming the sin is, of course, easy. It should be hated. It is.
Junior Seau, though, showed us that the further back from the trigger we get, the more muddled the story becomes. Thanks to some dogged and sober reporting both in Kansas City and elsewhere, we have a very good handle on the what, where, when and how, and in remarkably quick time. As we said, it was a murder-suicide done in the open by a perpetrator/victim too overcome by events and circumstances to try to hide his deeds.
The why, though, remains a very open question indeed. For that, we wait. It will seem like forever.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com