Football Glorification and Its Link to Domestic Violence

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On December 1, 2012, Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend by shooting her nine times and going to the football stadium in Kansas City where he met up with the general manager and his coach. He thanked them for giving him a chance to play in the NLF, and then, shot himself. My initial thoughts were, “Damn, another NFL player killing someone? Killing the mother of their child. The next question that comes after these thoughts are, why did he murder the mother of his child in cold blood?

One theory is that Belcher suffered traumatic brain injuries during his football games and practices. Traumatic brain injuries can affect or alter the behavior of a football player. Football, as many would agree, is a very dangerous sport. Why? Well, players are running full speed, slamming into each other with so much force that some players get knocked off their feet, thrown into the air, and crash landing on their backs, sides, shoulders, fronts, and on their heads. It is a violent sport, and even though you would think that football players’ armor protects them, it doesn’t. The speed and the hit of someone running on the field, coming at you, and hitting you is powerful and can harm you in such ways that you may not recover.

It is possible that Belcher suffered traumatic brain injuries where it altered his behavior and made him a more violent man as Derek Flood presents in his discussion, “Jovan Belcher’s Murder-Suicide Raises Questions of Traumatic Brain Injury in the NFL” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-flood/jovan-belchers-murdersuic_b_2229009.html). Flood presents that Belcher actually was a good guy who was an exemplary role model throughout his high school career. When he graduated from college, he received a degree in childhood development. The traumatic brain injury could explain why he went on a rage and shot his girlfriend and committed suicide.

However, I find this argument problematic, though. What I find more problematic about this traumatic brain injury is that my intuitive impression leaves me to believe that Belcher somewhat calculated or maybe fully plotted murdering his girlfriend. One such argument from BlogMother entitled, “The Crucifixion of Kasandra Perkins: Victim Blaming, Black Maternal Homicide and Stupidity” (http://www.whataboutourdaughters.com/waod/2012/12/3/the-crucifixion-of-kasandra-perkinsvictim-blaming-black-mate.html). This writer argues that Belcher murdered Perkins because he was an abuser. She also wants readers to take note that many African-American mothers are murdered while they are pregnant or after post-pregnancy. She suggests that the media is finding ways to make Perkins look like the one who isn’t the victim and that Belcher is. Initially, I thought that, like Flood, that Belcher did suffered from traumatic brain injury. Yet, the more I think about it, it is plausible that Belcher was an abuser.

Let’s continue to flush this out by starting with football culture to begin with. Our American culture is enthralled with sports. Sports are a powerful culture element in our country, in our society, and in our personal lives. In particular regions, especially in North America’s Southern states, football is our praiseworthy sport. I was born and raised and still live in the South. And let me tell you, Georgia fans get buck wild when college football and professional football season starts. Several years ago, I got a taste of this when I was walking through downtown Athens, and it was decked out in red and black regalia. Decked out. Girls had their faces painted with red and black paint and had black or red skirts and black or red shirts. It didn’t matter because the UGA students emphasis the symbol of what UGA football means: it is the university, and the university is more known for football than its academics.

But that’s what sports mean in our country. We award high school students sports scholarships, and many of these scholarships are full rides to the colleges or universities. I know that the HOPE scholarship I was awarded was not a full ride scholarship. I still had to apply for loans and grants to pay for my housing, books, and other materials I needed for college. The basketball players I know? Everything was paid for, and they didn’t have to apply for any grants or loans. I always wagged my head in how most of these players would shit away their education because all they needed to do was show up for basketball practices and their games and maintain average grades, and they could still get a degree and get a chance to get drafted by the NBA.

Another aspect that ties college sports and academics is the tutoring centers, tutors, and directors who help sport players maintain their usually above average GPAs. I was one of those tutors attending a community college. I would help many of the sport players. A few of them wanted me to actually help them learn the techniques of writing (I tutored English and writing) and improving them. The other plays wanted me to write their essays–come up with the ideas, flush them out, and type them a passing essay. These players’ behavior demonstrated that they believe they were entitled to coax me into doing their work. I would tell these players that it was no way that I would help them cheat, so they could maintain their sports scholarships and get to continue to play on the team. Typically, these players were football players because my community college was predominantly known as a football two-year school (not anymore…many years ago, they actually ended the football program). We had basketball players, too, but the ones I tutored, it seemed, wanted to actual learn how to improve their writings skills. Yet, I did have a few football players like that as well.

This is important to mention because I see this as part of the glorification of sports. We have a history of glorifying sports culture–particularly the dominant sports: football and basketball. Typically, whether a young person is in middle school or high school who is a sports athlete, they start noting right away that they get treated better than the entire student population in their schools. Looking back, all the kids I know who may have been potential geeks may have gotten bully or alienated if they were not in some type of sport. I do not know if some of the academic students did this on purpose, but they were cross-country runners, too. They participate in track and field. These kids were the most popular kids in school. Yes, they were noticed for being smart and in the gifted classes, but it makes me wonder if having that letterman’s jacket helped with their popularity even more.

Some of these sport players were bullies in my school as well. They taunted, teased, and humiliated other students because they were the jocks. They had power because everyone recognized them as being football and basketball players. Everyone recognized them as running in cross country or competing in golf. Sure, there were other students who got letterman’s jackets for competing in academics such as being on the debate team or participating in the band for four years. When they put on that letterman’s jacket, they gained respect for they no longer was gossiped about or bullied. One could argue that it was the JACKET, and the jacket represents students who participated in any type of competition entity such as sports or academics. Competition is an action that can cause dual results. Competition can be good. It can motivate or drive someone to excel and become successful in a positive manner. Or competition can be bad. It can motivate or drive someone to behave badly because they feel superior among people, and they exert their power to manipulate so he/she can gain certain incentives.

However, this glorification continues in other areas. We all (including me) are guilty of it one time or another or over and over again. In sports culture, we, the sport patrons, are willing to fill up stadiums, buy sport brands that athletes endorse, and on the college level, wealthy alumni are willing to pay huge endowments to sit in the boxes to watch their football teams get crushed and “shattered” out on the field so they can make touchdowns to win the games. With football especially, we glorify violence within the sport. All of us. Hell, I am not going to lie. I’ve enjoyed watching live football games and rooting on my home team or favorite team. Many of us have, and many of us will support football and other sports because it is a tradition of entertainment that has continued to be passed down from generation to generation.

But what also has passed down from generation to generation is the entitlement attitude and how we looked upon the image of sports players as well. It starts in middle school or high school. For some individuals, it starts earlier. Competition is within us. What tends to happen is that some of us don’t strike a healthy balance of competition. Depending where we come from and who we are, some of us compete no matter what the costs and could care less about the consequences of who it hurts. Whereas, some of us compete because it brings positivity in our lives and within ourselves like being a team player and showing people a good example of what kind of person you are.

When we discuss football specifically, the NFL, this all comes trickling down and comes back to Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend and the possibility that it is not a traumatic brain injury that aided in him killing his girlfriend. Why is this? Well…

Flood writes this about traumatic brain injuries and how they are connected to Belcher:

“Traumatic brain injury can cause emotional, social, or behavioral problems and changes in personality including disinhibition, inability to control anger, and impulsiveness. Additionally, TBI appears to predispose survivors to psychiatric disorders including substance abuse and clinical depression. According to a study published in the Psychiatric Times, suicidal ideation is not uncommon, and rates of suicide after TBI are increased 2- to 3-fold.

All of this fits with reports surfacing in the aftermath by friends of Belcher claiming that the linebacker was drinking every day and taking painkillers while dealing with the effects of debilitating football-related head injuries.

The combination of traumatic brain injury, alcohol, and handguns make for a deadly combination that not only may be behind Belcher’s murder-suicide, but has also been linked to an alarming trend of suicides and violent crime among soldiers returning from combat. Again, we find the same scenario: Good kids who suddenly “crack” and become violent.”

This is how the CDC defines traumatic brain injuries: ”

Potential Affects of Severe TBI

A non-fatal severe TBI may result in an extended period of unconsciousness (coma) or amnesia after the injury. For individuals hospitalized after a TBI, almost half (43%) have a related disability one year after the injury.9 A TBI may lead to a wide range of short- or long-term issues affecting:

  • Cognitive Function (e.g., attention and memory)
  • Motor function (e.g., extremity weakness, impaired coordination and balance)
  • Sensation (e.g., hearing, vision, impaired perception and touch)
  • Emotion (e.g., depression, anxiety, aggression, impulse control, personality changes)

Approximately 5.3 million Americans are living with a TBI-related disability and the consequences of severe TBI can affect all aspects of an individual’s life.10 This can include relationships with family and friends, as well as their ability to work or be employed, do household tasks, drive, and/or participate in other activities of daily living” (http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/severe.html).

So, yes, traumatic brain injuries can alter people emotions. When I heard that Belcher could have suffered from a traumatic brain injury that resulted in him being enraged and taking out that aggression on his girlfriend by killing her, I said that sounds plausible, EXCEPT when I read The Blogmother’s take on it, I begin to think about a few things that do not add up concerning the traumatic brain injury theory as well.

What did not add up is that Belcher only killed his girlfriend and not his daughter or his mother or both. He specifically killed her. Now, there is another well-known sports figure who killed his wife, his son, and himself: Chris Benoit. Benoit drugged and killed his wife and his son; then, he hung himself after he murdered his family. There were findings that he did suffered from massive traumatic brain damaged:

“His family now believes that new test results on Benoit’s brain explain his vicious actions.

The tests, conducted by Julian Bailes of the Sports Legacy Institute, show that Benoit’s brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.

Bailes and his research team say that this damage was the result of a lifetime of chronic concussions and head trauma suffered while Benoit was in the wrestling ring” (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=3560015&page=1).

I do not know if the same tests will be requested with Belcher, but Benoit suffered extensive head trauma for 22 years. However, because of traumatic brain injuries, abusing drugs, and his failing marriage, he committed deadly actions. Belcher did wrestle and play football throughout high school and played it throughout college and signed up independently to the Chiefs in 2010. Belcher had physically engaged in sports half the time that Benoit did. And yes, one could argue that traumatic brain injuries affect different individuals because everyone’s physical makeup is different. However, there are striking differences between Benoit and Belcher.

They both killed their partners, but Benoit killed his son.

They both competed and was a part of professional sports except Benoit had been wrestling for 22 years, and Belcher had been playing football for 11 years.

They both killed their partners at home, but Benoit did it while there was no one there, but his wife and son, which he killed both; Belcher killed his girlfriend in front of his mother. He also did not kill his mother and daughter or either one while he was there.

Benoit killed his wife and kid, and their bodies were in their homes for days until he decided to hang himself. Belcher shot his girlfriend nine times, went to the football stadium and was confronted by the general manager and coach where they tried to talk him out of killing himself.

Benoit, in my eyes, seemed to have really suffered traumatic brain injuries over a long period of time. I can see traumatic brain injuries causing him or influencing him to kill his wife and son. What he did seemed insane. However, Belcher’s actions seems more calculated or clearer than Benoit’s. He murdered his girlfriend and did not harm anyone else in the house. He drove his car directly to the football stadium (I think because he idolized the sport, and it was the one constant in his life that proved he was an achiever in) and shot himself in front of people he respected. All his behavior does not seem out of the blue.

One may argue that he took his life because he didn’t want to go to jail and serve his crime. One may argue he took his life because he did not want to face his family in a court battle with the media branding him as a murderer. One may argue he didn’t want to get executed and wait on death row to think about what he did to his girlfriend. Maybe one would argue that he killed himself because he didn’t want to deal with shooting his girlfriend in cold blood and having to think about leaving his daughter motherless.

Whatever the case maybe, Belcher decided to drive all the way to the football stadium and kill himself. So, isn’t it legitimate to also argue that Belcher wasn’t as good as Flood writes in his response? That there is a strong possibility that Belcher had a dark side. A very dark side that he was hiding from all expect his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins saw his dark side. Is it possible privately that he had control issues concerning Kasandra? He didn’t want her to go out and had a problem that she wouldn’t “obey” him?  It is also interesting to note that Belcher killed Kassandra while his mother and daughter were in the home. Couldn’t one say that…or argue that he has no respect for women at all? If he loved his mother, why would he shoot his girlfriend in front of her? If he loved his daughter, why would he take away her mother?

Chris Benoit’s motivations and actions make more sense with the traumatic brain injury diagnosis. Yes, again, it depends on genetics and what kind of individual you are, but I cannot ignore that Benoit was wrestling and taking heavy blows for twenty-two years…and his actions seem much more irrational than Belcher’s.

The Blogmother commented that the black writers on their blogs and black folks on their Twitters have responded in blaming the victim–rationalizing–what did Perkins do to him to make him that upset to where he murdered her. Yet, the Blogmother comments:

“SHE was the catalyst? HE had no control over his action because HE probably had a TBI- oh no it has to be concussions that are responsible….ANYTHING other than Jovan Belcher was a controlling bully who felt entitled to shoot his girlfriend.

Because mind you, Mr. Belcher managed to not kill his mother who was in the next room. He managed not to kill the security guard at the Kansas City Chief’s stadium. He managed not to kill his coach and the team manager. So were these some special “concussions” that only affected the part of the brain that deals with girlfriends?”

The last part she writes is interesting. He didn’t shoot anyone else but his girlfriend and turned the gun on himself. Before The Blogmother even writes this, she puts up alarming statistics that black mothers are murdered while pregnant or both they are pregnant:

“According to the CDC, black women have a maternal homicide risk about seven times that of white women. Black women ages 25-29 are about 11 times more likely as white women in that age group to be murdered while pregnant or in the year after childbirth. http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-4009249.html.”

What I am expressing is that football is a warring sport. It is a dangerous sport because football players sustain many body injuries. This warring sport can cause someone who already has a controlling personality and violent behavior to kill someone else. For me, it appears that Belcher killed his girlfriend because it was personal. I agree with The Blogmother. Facts are facts. He didn’t kill anyone else but Perkins.

Yet, who do we blame? Certainly, Belcher is to blame. Even if traumatic head injuries were partly responsible, he still was responsible for taking additional drugs and becoming heavily intoxicated which aggravated the situation. The possibility still stands that Belcher possibly had a very dark side that he covered up with good deeds. He met someone sweet, but she wouldn’t take his shit. When he felt out of control because he could not control her, he shot her dead–nine times.

The possible problem is that some of us do not want to consider other angles when violence as such occurs in the world of sports—in the world of football.  Football culture and what it stands for aids some of us to believe Belcher had a brain injury; the brain injury caused him to murder his girlfriend. The question still stands: why didn’t he hurt other people like Chris Benoit did? He killed his wife and his child. But because some of us glorify football…and many other sports, we tend not to see what is right there in front of our faces. Yet, we must consider that football glorification and how we put these players on a pedestal can result in cultivating violent behavior or even compounding violent behavior within players. Certainly, football is a violent contact sport, and I see how football players can easily become violent perpetrators in their intimate relationships.  Even though football playing may not be directly responsible, I cannot help think that there is some huge correlation. Belcher has always been praised for being good and doing the right thing and for being a good role model. In his personal, intimate romantic relationship, Perkins may not have been giving him that kind of idolization and praise that everyone else gave him on that field. If Belcher was an abuser, abusers want to control the situation because when you strip it away, it is sick, twisted attention that they are seeking. They are seeking glorification of being the one that the partner is boasting their egos. When their egos are not boosted, they decide to lash out because they are enraged that their partners “aren’t loyal.” Because of how football is glorified and many other sports, Belcher, I would assume, was a popular young male teenager and man as well.Because of that popularity and because he excelled at sports, he gained all kinds of attention from it. However, I think he might have expected that from Perkins when she didn’t want to comply all the time, this could be the reason he murdered. Yet, for now, we don’t know exactly what kind of behaviors were going on in that relationship. Yet, it was enough for Belcher to decide to shoot his girlfriend nine times while his mother and daughter were in the same household.

This is not an easy matter to discuss, but it needs to be discuss. I am not against sports. There is a lot of positivity that can result in someone playing sports. Sports have helped people who have athletic ability to get out bad environmental situation; sport scholarships have helped many individuals break the cycle of poverty. These individuals were able to lead successful lives and give back to their communities. However, many other kids who get out of the ghetto or rural areas or inner city areas, many of them are looking for a better life, but their mindset and what they believe isn’t always good for them. When they are drafted into college and/or professional sports, they do not understand the responsibilities are fame and idolization. Because we, as a society, glorify football and football culture and sports culture, we put these players on a pedestal. Many of these players have deep seated issues that do not get addressed. What all the fame, the fortune, and the recognition does is magnify these deep seated issues and add on more problems.  These players think that they are Gods and can do whatever they want because they are powerful on the field–especially when their team win games. The God status only enables egotistical behavior to where they believe that they can treat anyone any way, and they feel justified in doing it.

When you have someone who is an existing abuser and you glorify him and confirm to him that he is a God, and he thinks whatever he does is acceptable—that’s when many issues arise. One of the issues could be…

Belcher took his girlfriend’s life. He did it in the house where his daughter and mother lived at as well. I could argue that his actions portray someone who has no respect for women. If he did have any respect for women, why just go nuts on his girlfriend and murder her? In the meantime, he drove to the stadium where he met up with a general manager and his coach. It seems to me he had more respect for these men because he did not attempt to harm them. He confessed to them what he did, thanked them, and shot himself in the parking of that football stadium. Can we actually say that this is a feminist issue? That this is a sexist issue? Football has never really accepted women to play (even though I wouldn’t because it is a very dangerous and high risk contact sport that can immediately endanger your health), but it does accept NFL players or college players to have trophy wives or girlfriends or mistresses because our culture does treat football players and other sport players like Gods.

At the end of the day, we must think about how do we fit into this? What is the point of me arguing this? The point is their little girl is going to be scarred for life. She is going to know that her father murder her mom in cold-blood and took his own life. I don’t care if you try to explain that with a traumatic brain injury because that child is going to have to form her own opinions and her feelings. Well, her feelings are that she has NO MOTHER AND NO FATHER because of what her FATHER HAS DONE.
Sophia Muriel Flemming

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