December 4, 2012

Bill Nemitz: Save tears for Belcher's victims

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

He was a gifted linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs and, before that, the University of Maine Black Bears.

He studied hard and stood out as a leader among his peers, both on the field and off.

He even advocated against violence toward women.

But where, oh where among the platitudes enshrining the late, great Jovan Belcher is the one word that best describes him during that final, raging hour of his life Saturday morning?

He was a murderer.

And before we run with that thought, here's another: Close your eyes for a second and try to name the 22-year-old woman Belcher shot in cold blood before driving to Arrowhead Stadium and taking his own life in front of his team's horrified coach and general manager.

Can't remember? You and millions of others.

Her name was Kasandra Perkins. Also known (as is little Zoey, the couple's orphaned 3-month-old daughter) as Jovan Belcher's innocent victim.

"All the headlines are about this guy and what a great player he was and how he loved his family and how (Sunday's unexpected win by the Chiefs) was a tribute to him," lamented Drew Wing, executive director of Maine Boys to Men, in an interview Monday. "And there's hardly any mention of this girl and the baby that was left behind."

Why so?

Because, from the day he first set foot on UMaine's practice field and went about making a big name for himself, Belcher was The Man.

And because, by the time he left Orono for the NFL with his All-America, conference-player-of-the-year and other trophies paving his way to the big time, he was a legend in progress, a hero, a bona fide celebrity in a sports culture that posts statistics first and all too often asks questions later.

Questions that even now, launched amid the shock and the tears, woefully miss the point.

Monday's Bangor Daily News included an "analysis" of the Belcher tragedy that postulated, without a shred of hard evidence, that a head injury sustained on the football field "could have contributed to what transpired on Saturday."

Seriously? A football player grabs his handgun, murders his baby's mother and then shoots himself -- and the reflex reaction is to cast a suspicious eye at football?

Salon.com blogger Aaron Traister took that one bizarre step further, suggesting that NFL fans need to "accept our own responsibility" for the murder-suicide because we support the league's ever-increasing levels of violence and thus are somehow complicit when it spills over into players' everyday lives.

How convenient. Belcher kills the woman he purports to love and somehow I share his guilt because I have a Fantasy Football team.

At Boys to Men, which for the last 12 years has worked wonders teaching Maine's young males how to become real Maine men, Wing watched the Belcher story unfold through the weekend and shuddered as apologist after apologist fumbled for this or that explanation. Wing has one of his own – and it has precious little to do with football.

"For some reason, this athlete thought he had the right to control a woman to the degree that when she did something that perhaps he didn't like, he thought it was his right to take her life," Wing said. "This was a murder -- and these murders happen all the time."

Belcher's case, to be sure, is particularly confounding.

At UMaine, he enrolled in a course called male athletes against violence. What's more, he earned a bachelor's degree in just 3½ years in, of all things, childhood development and family relations.

How do we get our heads around that?

"I haven't done it yet," Wing replied. "I've still got to think about it."

But this much Wing already knows: Our culture -- be it in sports, business, whatever -- contains pockets of "hyper-masculinity" that teach men "they not only have the right to be in control, but they should be in control of all things at all times.

"And when things start to spin out of control -- and it could be a relationship or anything else -- a lot of men have been taught that they need to get that (person) back in control. And they often use violence to do that because it's effective," he said.

Add to that, Wing continued, the age-old notion among some men that they are "somehow superior" to women and thus have "permission" to resort to violence when a wife or girlfriend displeases them.

Such thinking couldn't be more wrongheaded. And more men need to say so.

Noted Wing: "When men get angry about this and start talking to other men about it, that has an impact."

There is, no doubt, more than enough grief to go around -- two young adults are dead and a 3-month-old girl is without parents. Thus it was impossible to watch UMaine football coach Jack Cosgrove struggling to compose himself before the TV cameras Saturday without feeling genuine compassion for a man who thought he knew one of his best players inside-out -- and apparently didn't.

But to commingle tears for Belcher with those for Kasandra Perkins is to ignore a fundamental difference between the two: One killed, not once but twice. The other only died.

"People who are close to (Belcher) are going to, of course, mourn his death," Wing agreed. "But that shouldn't be a path to not holding him and other men accountable when they hurt and murder women."

That might start with the two photos of Belcher, one in color, the other black-and-white, that hang in a hallway just off his old football locker room.

Press Herald Staff Writer Glenn Jordan noticed them during his visit to Orono on Saturday -- they're part of a motivational, frozen-in-time tribute to players who over the years have done the University of Maine proud.

Belcher's can't come down soon enough.

 

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@mainetoday.com

 

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