Last Sunday, the Carolina Panthers were pulled into a tragedy because of the NFL schedule.
Playing Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium a day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, shooting her nine times, and later shot and killed himself, put the team near the center of the discussion of athletes and guns.
Guns and the NFL have a connection, but not one that is unique among professional sports leagues or different from American society in general. The Belcher story only served to refocus attention on the subject.
The topic isn’t new. NFL representatives make a presentation to each team each year about gun safety, showing videos and leading discussions detailing what is and isn’t allowed.
Beyond that, Panthers officials say, the team has its own program on gun safety.
Mark Carrier, the team’s player engagement director, and Gene Brown, the Panthers’ director of security and a retired police officer, talk to players about N.C. and S.C. gun laws.
They remind the players that guns are prohibited on NFL property.
They tell them guns may not be taken on road trips.
They emphasize that gun laws are different from state to state, and players are expected to abide by all laws.
They counsel players on the proper use and care of guns, and talk about safety measures.
“We stand by the policy the league has,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “And we try to do a little bit more.”
And they hope it’s enough.
NFL players are not strangers to the gun culture. In a Monday radio interview on “The Dan Patrick Show,” discussing the Belcher incident, NFL analyst Tony Dungy relayed a story from his days coaching the Indianapolis Colts.
“Every year, the first day of training camp, I’d say, ‘How many of you have a gun?’ ” Dungy said. “Three-quarters of the hands would go up every year.
“You say, OK, we’ve got to get it registered in Indiana. You have to follow all the rules. ...
“It wasn’t explained to them that you shouldn’t have a gun. That was past.”
How many Panthers players own guns isn’t known. Rivera said he has talked to his players about gun safety but hasn’t asked how many own them.
Linebacker Thomas Davis told the Observer he owns guns, responsibly.
“I own a bunch of guns, but you’re not going to find me going around using them the wrong way,” Davis said. “I took a course that allowed me to receive my concealed permit and they explained to me the things you can and cannot do with guns.
“You have a right to bear arms. With that right, you have to be responsible in the way you use them.”
On NBC’s NFL broadcast Sunday night announcer Bob Costas related the Belcher story, and drew criticism for suggesting there are too many guns in the NFL.
But anecdotes about guns and NFL players aren’t rare. In July, the Brady Center To Prevent Gun Violence issued a report titled “Guns In Sports,” which focused on the number of football players who have been involved in gun violence.
NFL’s gun-violence history
Among the incidents the report cited:
• Titans quarterback Steve McNair, killed by his 20-year-old girlfriend with a $100 gun purchased on the street.
• Redskins safety Sean Taylor, shot and killed in his house by five attackers whose ages ranged from 16 to 20.
• New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress, who shot himself in the thigh when he took a gun into a New York City nightclub in 2008.
• Denver cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed while in a limo in 2007.
• Panthers running back Fred Lane, killed by his wife, who shot him at their house.
Other NFL players with Carolinas ties have also been involved in gun incidents, but were not included in the study:
• Panthers offensive lineman Jeremy Bridges, released by the team earlier this week, was arrested and later convicted for a 2007 incident in which he pointed a gun at a woman in a nightclub parking lot.
• Denver wide receiver Kenny McKinley, a former South Carolina player, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2010 using a gun he bought from a former teammate.
• Panthers receiver Rae Carruth, who was found guilty in 2001 of conspiracy in the shooting death of the mother of his unborn child.
In many of those cases, the NFL player was the victim, unlike the Belcher murder-suicide.
In his radio interview, Dungy said players told him having guns was a part of their lives.
“It’s, ‘Coach, you’re living in another world. I’ve had a gun since I was X years old. I’m going to keep a gun. I’m always going to have a gun to protect my family,” Dungy said.
” Dungy said. “This is everybody. This is not one person.”
When he asked players why they owned guns, Dungy said he was told, “They feel like they need protection, and some of them have grown up this way. ‘Everybody else had a gun so I’ve had a gun.’ ”
Davis: Guns for protection
Davis said his guns are for his family’s safety.
“You have people committing crimes all the time. We’re guys that given the profession and our salaries, that people are going to come after us. I’m going to protect my family,” Davis said.
The Panthers, like other teams in the NFL, use education and counseling in an attempt to keep players safe.
“They talk to us about it,” Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said. “The situation and what the laws are in each state. They’ve done it for the 12 years I’ve been here, they’ve done it extensively.
“They’ve also said the team says you’re grown men. You have the right to bear arms. But you need to bear arms legally within the framework and the guidelines of the law.
“They also stress the safety precautions and the higher risk of injury when you have a firearm.
“But each man is responsible for their own actions and the arms they bear.”
Carrier, a former Panthers player, has duties that include educating players on various off-the-field issues, gun safety among them.
“The biggest thing we try to do is if we can somehow recognize an issue of concern, we try to jump on it right away,” Carrier said. “I know the player development person in Kansas City. You try, but you can’t predict everything.
“You try to talk about it a lot before it happens. One of the things I try to do is not minimize any issue and talk about any issue before it grows and grows and eventually explodes.”
When it escalated in Kansas City last weekend, it shook a community and the league.
Carrier hopes the tragedy can be a teachable moment.
“You try to take something that’s very, very negative and you try to use it as an educational tool,” Carrier said.
“That’s what I think the league is going to try to do. Bring more awareness to it.
“It happens. You try for it not to but it happens. You try to educate players as much as you can and let them know there are resources.”
Green: 704-358-5118; Twitter: @rongreenjr