Jovan Belcher, the NFL starter for the Kansas City Chiefs killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, on Saturday and then himself, leaving behind a 3-month-old daughter. This is tragic. It just makes me so sad- for the daughter who had two parents and now will never know them, for the woman who was killed and had no choice in whether she wanted to live, for Belcher who couldn’t regulate his emotions enough to not kill someone else and himself, for all the people who knew him, the other players, the coaches, the fans, and for football itself.
I don’t know any more details than the first hand news reports are giving, but from afar it looks like a domestic violence case that escalated to a woman being killed, though there are reasons to see it as atypical. BUT, there is one thing, that makes me think it might have an added issue- football.
Football as a game has gotten progressively more violent. Protective gear hasn’t helped because it makes the players ram into each other even harder. Head injuries happen probably more than even coaches and players realize. I’ve been around enough men to know they’re often told to “walk it off” when they are hurt. Even if they’re not told that, they have that ingrained in them from growing up. Don’t dwell on it, walk it off, you’ll be okay. But what if you won’t be?
Belcher is the sixth NFL player to kill himself in the past two years. Anyone can imagine that having a head injury might not be good, but what about over and over again?
It already happens with trauma that people avoid situations and stimuli that remind them of a previous traumatic event. If their nervous systems believe (even if falsely) that they are in danger, they may respond in ways that are over the top or like in this case, violent.
If a player’s trauma of being hit and charged at by people who will stop at nothing to win has gone untreated, it is absolutely possible that at some point, they will react severely and violently towards themselves or others.
A player could also have childhood trauma and football just piled on as one more thing threatening your wellbeing- BuBuBuBUT, it’s just a game.
Let me list symptoms of trauma. You can have trauma and not have PTSD, though you cannot have PTSD without trauma.
First, the trauma: 2 things-
1. if a person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which they experienced, witnessed or were confronted with an event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury or threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
2. if the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror. As children they might have agitated or disorganized behavior.
So, trauma symptoms:
recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event
recurrent distressing dreams of the event
acting or feeling as if the event were recurring- might be flashbacks, hallucinaitons
intense psychological distress at reminders of the event
physiological reactivity to reminders of the event
efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, conversations associated with the trauma
efforst to avoid activities, places, people associated with the trauma
inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
loss of interest or participation in significant activities
feeling of detachment from others
restricted range of feelings and ability to show feelings
doesn’t expect to have a normal lifespan
difficulty with sleep
irritability or outbursts of anger
exaggerrated startle response
The above symptoms are associated with PTSD and certain numbers of symptoms in different categories must be present for over a month and must cause distress. Other trauma symptoms might also include:
appetite being affected
sense of worth being affected
What if, as a player, you feel a lot of these things regularly? What if you can’t “walk it off?”
Trauma is very serious, but it hasn’t been seen as a potential issue in football until more recent years. Now people are beginning to question whether players have Traumatic brain injuries. Whether it’s traumatic brain injury or trauma, these players have clearly demonstrated they are NOT okay and have little impulse control. They are just the ones we see. I imagine there are many more players suffering out there who have not yet killed themselves and are trying their damnedest to “walk it off.”
Trying to constantly deal with trauma symptoms like these is brutal and to always have to face the enemy again in what is a game understandably would leave some players feeling hopeless enough to kill themselves and out of control enough to kill someone else.
What if it is football’s fault? What if being slammed in the head over and over again messes you up? What if the humanity within the players that says when a bunch of big dudes are set to fight you and chase after you, you run like hell and don’t go back or fight like hell and then run? They’re doing that, sure, but still getting clobbered at one time or another-that’s football. And, I might argue, that could also be trauma.
We may need to rethink the game. We may need to rethink the way players’ mental and emotional health is monitored. We may need to hire doctors to evaluate head injuries and any body slam action. We may need to retire players with honors after shorter periods of time. We need to put players health and emotional/mental health before the game.
ONE MORE NOTE: Rates of violence and homicide of African American women are high, especially of younger African American women. I chose to write this article about football and Jovan Belcher because I believe that the game as it is negatively impacts players. That does not mean to excuse or take the blame from the perpetrator of the murder, it is to suggest that people do things often because of trauma, acts of domestic violence/intimate partner violence included. Looking at trauma and helping men acknowledge trauma symptoms and mental health issues and to get help is also a part of stopping violence against women. It must be.