KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Three women most likely died Saturday at the hand of their husband or boyfriend, but the only one who made international headlines was Kasandra Perkins.
Because she was murdered by a Kansas City Chiefs football player.
The Monday morning quarterbackers aren’t focusing on the epidemic of domestic violence in this country. They’re mourning the loss of 25-year old linebacker Jovan Belcher. They’re asking, “Why?” What drove him to shoot and kill 22-year-old Perkins, his girlfriend and the mother of their 3-month-old daughter, Zoey, and then turn the gun on himself?
The tragic chain of events began shortly before 8 a.m. at the couple’s Kansas City home when Belcher shot Perkins multiple times in front of his mother, who was visiting to help with the couple’s baby. Then Belcher jumped in his car and drove a short distance to the parking lot of the team’s practice facility at Arrowhead Stadium. Pistol in hand, Belcher talked with head coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli, thanking them for everything they’d done for him. As police approached, Belcher shot himself in the head.
Sunday’s home game against the Carolina Panthers went on as scheduled. There was no precedence, really, for what to do after such a tragedy. Tailgaters gathered in the parking lot; some prayed for the victims. A moment of silence was observed before the game “to remember all victims of domestic violence and their families” but not Belcher or Perkins by name. Most network sports shows addressed the issue, but CBS caught flak for waiting at least five minutes into its show before the murder-suicide was mentioned. Bob Costas took the opportunity to support gun control, as did columnist Jason Whitlock. After all, had no handgun been readily available, might Perkins still be alive?
The question of “why” lingers. Kansas City Mayor Sly James, speaking with reporters, Saturday, talked about the pressures on athletes, especially when they’re playing for a losing team. Until Sunday’s 27-21 win over the Carolina Panthers, the Chiefs had lost the last eight consecutive games. The question of head injuries has surfaced. What about drugs and alcohol? The emphasis of violence in the game of football?
A friend of Perkins told the Kansas City Star that the couple had argued because she had attended a Trey Songz concert Friday night and then gone out for drinks with friends. She didn’t get home until 1 a.m. Other rumors have surfaced that Perkins wanted to leave Belcher and take their child. A Kansas City police spokesperson has said that the couple had a history of arguing, although no reports of physical violence have surfaced.
Wading through the tweets, Facebook comments and news reports, I’m finding that Perkins has been overshadowed by Belcher. People are forgetting that he’s not just the victim of violence at his own hand (I think it’s the tweets that hint he was suffering from depression and that’s why he killed himself that irk me the most). He killed his girlfriend and the mother of his child.
“This was a murder and a suicide,” Sharon Katz, executive director of SafeHome, a domestic abuse shelter in the Kansas City area, told me. “We’re losing sight of the victim….We’re hearing a lot more about Jovan than Kasandra.”
Perkins was a native of Texas who met Belcher three years ago when visiting her cousin, married to Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, in Kansas City. Perkins had been attending college and planned to become a teacher. She loved being a mother, according to her friends.
The other victim, of course, is the couple’s daughter. She will never know her parents. She will have to learn someday that her father shot her mother and then killed himself.
For Katz, one of the “saddest things” about this tragedy is the fact that Belcher, as a professional athlete, was a role model for young boys. “We need role models with healthy relationships,” she said. How to accomplish this involves changing our culture, but she mentioned one program, Coaching Boys into Men, that works with coaches of boys’ sports teams.
If there’s any positive result, it will be heightened awareness of the epidemic of domestic violence in the United States. As many as one in four women is a victim of domestic abuse; an average of three women a day die as the result of violence from a boyfriend or husband. That’s 1,500 women a year.
“This isn’t a woman’s problem,” Katz said. “It is a human problem.”