Ray Ratto

Waiting for the 'why' in Belcher tragedy

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Waiting for the 'why' in Belcher tragedy

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

Phrase that Matt Joyce left out of his apology is key to talking the talk

Phrase that Matt Joyce left out of his apology is key to talking the talk

Matt Joyce said the word, he did the apology, he’ll do the time, and then we’ll see if he’ll get the forgiveness he asks.
 
Joyce’s two-game suspension by Major League Baseball for using a gay slur at a fan during Friday’s Athletics-Angels game in Anaheim is well within industry norms (though it might have been more tactically impressive if the club itself had issued the suspension), and his apology did not deflect blame or contain the always-insincere caveat “if I offended anyone.” He did offend people and he knew it, so he didn’t couch it in the phraseology of “I don’t think what I said was improper, but I’ll do the perp walk just to get this over with.”
 
He even offered to do work with PFLAG, the support group that supports the LGBTQ community, thereby putting his time (which is more meaningful than money) where his mouth was.
 
In other words, he seems to have taken his transgression properly to heart, which is all you can really hope for, and now we’ll see if he is granted the absolution he seeks.
 
You see, we’re a funny old country in that we talk forgiveness all the time but grant it only sparingly, and only after a full mental vetting of important things like “Do we like this guy?” and “Is he playing for my favorite team?” and “Do I feel like letting him up at all?”
 
In other words, forgiveness is very conditional indeed.
 
Joyce said what he said, but his apology seemed to be given freely and unreservedly rather than crafted to meet a minimal standard of corporate knee-taking/arse-covering. If he follows through on his offer to do face-to-face work with PFLAG or an associated group and absorbs the lesson of not using other people as a weapon for his own frustration, then he ought to be acknowledged for doing so. That’s what forgiveness is.
 
But if the principle you adhere to is “once guilty, forever doomed,” then you’ve succeeded at giving in to the mode of the day, which is jumping to a conclusion and never jumping back because it’s just easier and more convenient to do so.
 
It’s up to him. But it’s also up to you.

Promotion and relegation would be a great idea in all sports

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AP

Promotion and relegation would be a great idea in all sports

There is no inherent reason why you should care about Miami FC or Kingston Stockade FC, two lower level professional soccer leagues in the lower right quadrant of the nation.

But when they joined together to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the international governing body for any sport not run by Americans for Americans, to demand that all American teams submit to the concept of promotion and relegation, from MLS to, presumably, your kid’s under-8 team, they became interesting.

And the best part about soccer, except for Neymar being worth twice as much as all other humans in the history of the sport, is promotion and relegation.

In fact, it would be a great idea in all sports – although the idea of the Giants and A’s in the Pacific Coast League might scare the bejeezus out of Larry Baer and John Fisher.

Now we are not optimistic that the CAS will see this Kingston and Miami’s way. Americans like their sports top-heavy, where only a few megaclubs get most of the money and attention while the rest sort of muddle along, safe but unremarkable. And to be frank, promotion and relegation is most a fun media construct for making fun of bad teams – say, like the A’s and Giants.

But we can agree, I think, that having Jed York pay Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch to keep his football team out of the Canadian Football League, or better still, the Mountain West Conference, would add to healthy dose of spice to what promises otherwise to be a pretty humdrum year.

And promotion/relegation would certainly reduce all that troublesome tanking in the NBA people endlessly whinge about.

So here’s to Kingston Stockade and Miami FC. Your cause is just. Persevere. After all, in this rancid period for American sporting culture, someone's got to stand for the quixotic yet indisputably correct thing.

And when it fails, and it probably will, just know you sleep with the angels -- if that’s what passes for fun at your house.