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Monday, December 3, 2012

Kassandra Perkins (1990-2012)


Kassandra Perkins


After a month long layoff, The Daily Hat Trick is back. It saddens me to restart the blog with tragedy, but I would be remiss if, as the NFL season ramps up to a crescendo, I did not comment on the senseless tragedy that took place in Kansas City on Saturday.

For those of you who were on a camping trip or signed up for an Amish retreat experience over the weekend, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jevon Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, Kassandra Perkins, on Saturday morning in front of his mother. He then drove to the Chiefs facility at Arrowhead Stadium and shot himself in front of Chiefs personnel, including Head Coach Romeo Crennel. Belcher and Perkins left behind a three month old child.


MAKING THE GAME SAFER

We have been inundated more with each passing day about the long term dangers of head injuries resulting from playing football over the past two years. The public has met these concerns with a mixture of understanding, indifference, and skepticism. In a statement released after Saturday’s shooting, the Chiefs stated that Belcher had no history of concussions. A player commits a murder suicide and the football team for which he played quickly downplays the role of head injuries in the crime.

What does this tell us? We are well aware of the suicides of former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson and future Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau. Both players reportedly suffered from depression and other mental problems prior to their deaths. Duerson, who shot himself in the chest, specifically asked in his suicide letter that his brain be donated for research efforts related to the impact of football on the brain. Seau’s family also donated his brain for research.

Very little is known about Belcher’s mental state prior to Saturday morning’s events. To speculate without additional information would be irresponsible. Considering the circumstances of the tragedy, however, questions are going to be asked and the NFL will all but certainly conduct its own investigation. Whether or not the NFL finds any playing-related link to the murder-suicide, the subject of risks from concussions will inevitably entrench itself in the forefront of concerns of the NFL’s brass.


GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE; PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE

The use of a firearm in the deaths of Perkins and Belcher will also garner attention from those outside the world of sports and their fans. Last night, Bob Costas offered an opinion on NBC’s Sunday Night Football that had Belcher not had a gun, he and Perkins would still be alive. Considering that he shot Ms. Perkins nine times and then shot himself, that opinion is not very different from a fact. The topic of gun control has once again arisen due to a high profile set of gun deaths.

I own guns. I like guns. I’ve hunted before, albeit with little success. I favor the Second Amendment and believe in the rule of law, which includes the right to own guns. All of that said, to think that Belcher’s access to a gun did not exponentially increase the risk turned certainty of his and Ms. Perkins’ deaths is na├»ve at best and apathetic denial at worst. Unlike some, I don’t think the solution is to make it harder for law abiding citizens to own firearms.

The fact that Belcher shot his girlfriend nine times, in spite of the couple having an infant child, followed by shooting himself in front of his employer suggests that some type of mental illness or condition was likely at play. We don’t KNOW that, but the circumstances suggest it. I am unaware of Belcher having any felony criminal record. So I doubt there is anything that could have prevented him from owning a gun. However, people do not go from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde overnight. If Belcher did suffer from a mental illness, signs were probably noticeable and present.

I think the long term solution to tragedies that look like these is to heighten public awareness of mental illness, lessen the stigma associated with it, and encourage intervention and treatment in the same manner in which we would intervene on behalf of and treat a person suffering from an apparent heart condition.


THE SHOW MUST GO ON

Finally, there has been some debate in the media about how appropriate it was, or was not, for the Chiefs to host their game against the Carolina Panthers as scheduled. I know that many of you will disagree with me and I understand why, but I think that after weighing the pros and cons, the Chiefs and the NFL made the appropriate decision to play the game. The event was tragic, but its scope was limited to the friends and family of the two people left dead. People die. People commit acts of violence.

To interrupt a high profile event such as an NFL game in a highly visible, public manner because of the rash, (likely) split-second actions of a single individual would impact tens of thousands of people without any other logistical or safety considerations. In other words, the game could be played and, unlike 9/11 or another mass tragedy, there was no substantial impact on the public by playing the game. Had Belcher not been an NFL player and worked for any other major company, business would have continued nearly seamlessly and on schedule (or close to it).


THE VICTIMS

This story is likely to be a topic of discussion in the coming weeks. I sincerely hope that people keep in mind that this was a murder and that Kassandra Perkins was the victim. The orphaned child is a victim. Belcher’s mother is a victim. Ms. Perkins family was victimized. The focus is going to be on Belcher because of his role in this tragedy and who he was, an NFL player. I hope that the focus does not shift perspective from the victims in this case.  


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Image from Ms. Perkins' Facebook page

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