KANSAS CITY, Mo.
CAROLINA’S TEAM buses pull into the parking lot at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday morning. Players probably don’t notice the two Kansas City Chiefs flags at half staff on the red truck nearby.
Fans usually joke with and even welcome the visiting team. This is the Midwest. But the reaction Sunday is muted. The day is not about visitors. It’s about the home team and the community it represents.
And maybe it’s about hope.
On Saturday morning, Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher, 25, shot and killed Kasandra Perkins, his 22-year old girlfriend and mother of their 3-month-old daughter, Zoey.
Belcher then drove to the team’s practice facility and thanked general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel for everything they had done. Then Belcher turned the gun on himself and ended his life.
“We can’t forget about it,” Kansas City linebacker Andy Studebaker said. “We don’t want to forget about it. He was a brother to us. His family was our family.”
The Chiefs, who have the worst record in the NFL when the game begins, drive 74 yards for a touchdown the first time they have the ball. They drive 46 yards for a field goal the second.
Players and fans begin to lose themselves in the 64-degree sunshine and the familiar rhythm of our country’s most popular sport. The better the Chiefs play, the more Sunday feels like football. For 2 hours and 56 minutes, the game offers an escape.
Despite Saturday’s deaths, and despite playing across the parking lot from the practice facility in which Belcher ended his life, the Chiefs, and not the Panthers, are the team that plays with poise. They win 27-21.
In the locker room the victors are muted. They can all see Belcher’s locker, which is as he left it. His No. 59 jersey hangs there.
Again, Belcher isn’t the victim. His girlfriend is. So, of course, is the daughter who will remember her parents through pictures and what people tell her.
“We don’t know what happened,” said Brandon Siler, who replaced Belcher Sunday in the starting lineup. “All I know is there are two families out there, there’s a little baby girl out there who’s going to get my prayers every day for the rest of my life, and that’s what’s really important to me.”
The team will start a fund for her.
Said linebacker Derrick Johnson: “This situation shows that we need to talk to each other more as men, not just as football players. Generally men don’t really show their feelings, we don’t talk about what’s going on and don’t show emotion. To have an act like this to go on that could have been avoided, we need to do more making sure the teammate is OK.”
When it’s the turn of quarterback Brady Quinn to speak, he looks down and sucks in a large gulp of air. He has the same thought you would if Belcher had been a friend or coworker of yours. What could he have done to prevent this?
“When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it?” Quinn asks. “When you answer someone back how are you doing, are you really telling the truth?”
Quinn adds: “Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”
Hopefully is a good word.
Hopefully, the moment of silence before Sunday’s game, a moment designed to honor victims of domestic violence, will resonate.
Hopefully, a potential perpetrator will remember Kansas City, and pause and think and even walk away.
Reach Sorensen at (704) 358-5119; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter