How Jovan Belcher tragedy reveals dark side of love in NFL
Rachel Binns Terrill, Ph.D., is an instructor at Northwest University in Kirkland and spent seven years in the field studying NFL relationships while her husband Craig Terrill played for the Seattle Seahawks from 2004 to 2011. She writes about love and marriage on her website www.rachelterrill.com and is working on a book from her dissertation about love in the NFL.
Saturday morning I opened my Twitter page and read the terrible news: Jovan Belcher had killed himself at Arrowhead Stadium after killing Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and mother of his 3-month-old daughter.
Tears filled my eyes. For her. For him. For everything that I know about the dark side of love and relationships in the NFL.
Twitter followers used words like “incomprehensible” and “senseless”.
To outsiders, it may have appeared Jovan Belcher had a perfect life. The Kansas City Chiefs linebacker was a player on the rise with a contract worth $1.9 million. He had a beautiful girlfriend and a healthy daughter. Perhaps it was even hard for Belcher not to buy into that illusion, to begin wondering why, if they he had a perfect life, did he still feel something was missing?
Less than a month before their daughter was born, Perkins posted a game picture of Belcher on her Facebook page with the caption, “In LOVE with SUPERMAN?” Superman? It could be argued that he was.
An undrafted free agent in 2009, Belcher displayed such prowess on the football field that he started three games for the team as a rookie. He seemed to fly through the air, over and around offensive linemen to defeat quarterbacks. But no costumed superhero can remain on duty all the time. What happens when the mask comes off?
Was it steroids? Concussions? “He wasn’t a bad guy,” his teammates reiterate. He was known as much for his work off the field as on. He worked with underprivileged children in his off time. He doted on his daughter. He seemed to love her mother. So what was Jovan Belcher’s Kryptonite?
I don’t know Jovan Belcher. I’ve never met Kasandra Perkins. But I do know NFL relationships, and they aren’t easy.
Love in the NFL is riddled with loneliness, depression, uncertainty, and fear. Positions aren’t permanent and players are easily replaced. Players and their partners are often thrust from the only lives they’ve known, far away from their friends and families, into isolation as their alter-egos. Fans cheer their names, but they don’t know their stories. And when the player is cut, the cheers continue for the team without them. Those in romantic relationships with NFL players are well aware of that reality.
“It doesn’t matter how bad things are with our relationship or how upset I am. I’ll never talk to him about those things during the season,” a fellow NFL wife told me.
Wives and girlfriends of NFL players are left to care for their children alone during the season, miles from their families, and often emotionally far away from the NFL players who live in their homes.
I don’t know what made this superhero snap. I don’t know why this NFL girlfriend lost her life or why their daughter is going to be left to grow up without her mom and dad. But I can guess that there was a private pain that plagued them both. Inside the world of the NFL, it’s neither incomprehensible nor is it senseless. Tragic, yes.
But the pain is not new to NFL families. Four current or former NFL players have committed suicide in the last eight months. The details in this story will likely continue to leak out throughout the days and weeks to come. After all, nothing remains private for fallen superheroes.