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Tuesday, September 23 2014 @ 07:24 PM CDT

How Can They Play? Murder, Suicide, And The National Football League

Sports

The NFL has a long and shameful history in handling tragedy. The league played as planned on the Sunday after President John F. Kennedy's assassination. They were going to play the Sunday after 9/11 until the New York Jets rebelled and Major League Baseball canceled its own schedule forcing the NFL to follow suit. Now we have another example of a sport absent of perspective.

How Can They Play? Murder, Suicide, And The National Football League

Dave Zirin

The NFL has a long and shameful history in handling tragedy. The league played as planned on the Sunday after President John F. Kennedy's assassination. They were going to play the Sunday after 9/11 until the New York Jets rebelled and Major League Baseball canceled its own schedule forcing the NFL to follow suit. Now we have another example of a sport absent of perspective.

On Saturday morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed the mother of his three-month-old child, 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins. Then he drove to the Chiefs facility and took his own life in front of head coach Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs, and general manager Scott Pioli. By Saturday afternoon, it had been announced that the Chiefs would play Sunday at home against the Carolina Panthers as planned. CBS Sports had even, stunningly, factored Belcher's suicide into whether he was a wise pick-up for fantasy football players. There would be no postponement, no mourning, and no space for his teammates to come to grips with what happened. On the highest possible cultural platform, the NFL told the world that the death of a 22-year-old woman, the suicide of a player, and the mental state of his teammates are secondary to the schedule.

The pretense of both the NFL and Chiefs owner Clark Hunt for playing as planned was that the team captains and Crennel wanted to take the field. Even if we accept this at face value, and we shouldn't in a league as tightly controlled as the NFL, it's difficult to understand why this was their decision and not the decision of the league in conjunction with mental health professionals. The Chiefs and the NFL are also taking pains to say that professional grief counselors would be present at the game. I have not been unable to unearth who these people actually are and what their credentials might be, but how serious can they be about their presumed oath to "do no harm" if they are sending Chiefs players into harm's way under relative states of shock? I have interviewed a great many NFL players and they always say that the playing field is most dangerous when you are distracted. It's difficult to not see the NFL's insistence that this is the decision of the Chiefs organization alone as an exercise in public relations as well as a shield against their own liability.

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