When Kansas City Mayor Sly James arrived at the Chiefs’ training facility on Saturday morning, he wasn’t sure what to say to general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel.
“This isn’t something that we have in our response booklet,” James said.
Pioli and Crennel had just seen linebacker Jovan Belcher shoot himself in the parking lot after he had shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, minutes earlier at their home in Kansas City. The couple had a 3-month-old daughter.
So James felt it was important for him to lend whatever support he could. His first order of business was consoling a distraught Pioli and Crennel.
“He’s trying to do his job under probably more adverse circumstances than he’s ever seen in his life,” James said of Pioli. “He knows all the players. He knows that particular player, he’s very emotional.”
James couldn’t put himself in Pioli and Crennel’s shoes, but said, “You have absolutely no idea of what it’s like to see somebody kill themselves. If you can take your worst nightmare and put somebody you know and love into that situation, and give them a gun and stand three feet away from them and watch them kill themselves, that’s what it is like.
“It’s unfathomable. Think about your worst nightmare and multiply it by five.”
While Belcher’s murder-suicide was a high-profile tragedy because he plays professional football, James emphasized the incident is not an isolated one.
“We’re here to try to help (the Chiefs) keep things in perspective and focused on the real issue, the tragic loss of life …” James said, “and there is an infant with no parents, and to make sure this is not just an isolated situation everyone pays attention to because he wore a helmet and a uniform, but they realize this is part of the tragedy of urban living in this country … hand guns all over the place, people keep blowing themselves away and others.
“At some point, we have to get a handle on some of this stuff, and we’re not doing a good job of it. Jovan Belcher’s profile elevates the subject, but there are hundreds of young people who have lost their lives, they’re all tragic, they’re all regrettable. They’re all things that hopefully could be avoided. This one was particularly bad because of the circumstances …”
The Chiefs, who are 1-10 this season and have been heavily criticized by fans and media this season, and James didn’t rule that out as a factor in what may have made Belcher commit such a horrible crime.
“We find a number of reasons to divide ourselves,” James said. “We can get pretty mean-spirited. We can talk about 25, 26, 30-year-old kids playing a game as if they are trash if they don’t perform up to our standards. Most of us have never played the game above high school, but all of a sudden we can tear them apart if they don’t meet our expectations. That has an impact on people … we could stand to put things in better perspective sometimes.”
James questioned priorities in some cases.
“We spend a lot of time, effort and energy looking at our sports stars,” he said, “but we have schools that are not working, we’ve got kids who need things and people who live on the street, and we don’t put nearly that amount of energy into those issues. … This is an indication of it.
James added: “I’m here, you’re here, we’re all here because a young man in a high-profile position for whatever reasons, felt the end of the world had come and he had to act in the way he did. What kind of burden was he under to do that? What is it like to be unable to go to dinner without people getting in your face and calling you scum and loser and everything else?
“There are more factors we can fathom in a conversation about this. All things are factors in what happens in our lives. And sometimes we get a little bit overboard in what we do. I don’t know what happened here, none of us do. There’s only one person who does, and unfortunately he’s unable to tell us. But the bottom line is we as a society and as a city have to recognize when we’re talking about people … we’re talking about real, honest to God people, and they have lives and feelings … “
James did not intend to address reporters on Saturday, but because no one from the club met with the media, he took it upon himself.
“I’m a little embarrassed by this, quite frankly. I wasn’t planning to do this,” he said, “but on the other hand, I’ve got to. Somebody has to say something.
“I hope people will look at the act and not try to judge the person … we’re talking about kids who are 25, 26 years old playing in circumstances that most of us never dream of and living lives in fishbowls and sometimes that becomes unbearable.
“Beyond all of that, there are a lot of people who are hurting. There’s a young baby without parents at this point … this is time to start looking at these things a little differently.”