No one’s heart may truly be in it, but there will be an NFL game today at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Kansas City Chiefs will play their first game since linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself in the Arrowhead parking lot Saturday morning, committing suicide shortly after police say he shot his girlfriend to death in the home they shared with their infant daughter.
There will be no decals, no patches on their uniforms or helmets, no public memorial for him today. Rather, there will be a moment of silence for all victims of domestic violence. For his teammates, figuring out what caused this to happen to a young man who was a family relations and child development major at the University of Maine will be set aside for a few hours, then taken up again. Players, owner Clark Hunt admitted, are “struggling.”
The Chiefs, with one victory this season, play the Carolina Panthers in a 1 p.m. (EST) game that many had wanted postponed. The scene will be surreal. The lot where Belcher ended his life, with Coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Scott Pioli present, adjoins the practice facility, which lies a few hundred yards from Arrowhead. Despite the low-key remembrance of Belcher, it will be impossible for fans, who will set aside their protests about the team’s management and coaches in this wretched season, not to realize the horror that took place so close by, so recently.
The choice to play, with feelings so fresh and raw, was left up to the players, Hunt told ESPN’s Ed Werder. “Yesterday afternoon as we were having the discussions with the league office about whether the game should go forward, I left it up to Romeo Crennel and the team to make the decision. Romeo called the team captains yesterday afternoon. Many of them had heard from their teammates and they all wanted to play the game. I asked Coach Crennel, ‘Do you think the right thing to do is to go forward?’ and he said, ‘I do.’”
There’ve been too many of these moments for the NFL, but none has come so close to a game. In July, Tennessee Titans wide receiver O.J. Murdock shot himself to death. Kenny McKinley of the Denver Broncos committed suicide in 2010.
While this is uncharted territory, there is a sad history for the Chiefs, as longtime fans know. There was the death of Derrick Thomas in an auto accident in February 2000. Running back Joe Delaney died in June 1983 as he tried to rescue three children who were drowning in a Louisiana lake. Delaney was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Ronald Reagan. And there is the sad story of Jim Tyrer, who played for the Chiefs’ two Super Bowl teams. At the age of 41, he shot his wife to death in 1980 before committing suicide because of a series of financial setbacks.