Clark Hunt, chairman and team owner of the Kansas City Chiefs - Jamie Squire
In a season heaped in tragedy, the Kansas City Chiefs are conflicted by their emotions for their fallen teammate and the deadly consequences of his unexpected, horrific actions.
The Kansas City Chiefs needed something big to happen that would give them a jolt and get them playing together and for one another and turn a collective frame of mind for losing into a positive mindset more suited for winning. The tragic events of this past weekend, in which the lives of two young members of the Chiefs' family were sadly and senselessly lost, are not what anybody would have wanted. But it did bring the players and everyone associated with the Chiefs together - albeit in a grief-stricken state - like at no other time this season.
Because the murder-suicide involving Chiefs' linebacker Jovan Belcher and his 22-year-old girl friend, Kasandra Perkins, occurred just about 24 hours before the Chiefs' home game at Arrowhead on Sunday with the Carolina Panthers, there was an unbelievable rush of mental anguish and emotional upheaval to deal with throughout the organization, yet some very important decisions that needed to be made concerning the status of Sunday's game.
Given two different chances to decide not to play Sunday's game, Chiefs' players adamantly chose otherwise. Team chairman Clark Hunt left the decision to play or not up to head coach Romeo Crennel, his coaching staff and the players themselves. Whatever that group decided to do, Hunt said he would support the decision.
As everyone by now knows, the game was played and the Chiefs, clearly filled with sadness and mixed emotions over the events of the previous 24 hours, produced what clearly was their best performance of the season in winning just their second game of the year and breaking a seven-game losing skid in the process. Kansas City scored late in the second quarter to take the lead at halftime, 17-14, for the first time all year. The Chiefs held on in the second half for a highly emotional 27-21 victory.
But this column isn't about what happened on the field on Sunday - as torturously satisfying to Chiefs' fans as it was. Rather, it is about the pressure-filled decisions and the respectful and dignified manner in which everyone in the Chiefs' organization handled the situation under extremely difficult circumstances.
You could forever debate whether it was the right thing to go ahead and play the game and, in fact, that was the topic of discussion practically from the time the horrific news broke around midday on Saturday. There are arguments to be made on both sides of the issue, but at the end of the day, literally and figuratively, that is what the Chiefs decided to do.
"We're football players. That's what we do. We play football on Sundays," Crennel said after the Chiefs' team captains informed him that the team wanted to go ahead and move forward with the game as scheduled. Crennel's comments may sound a bit crass and uncaring taken out of context, but the truth of the matter is that the consensus among the players was that playing the game would help take their minds off of the sadness and emotional hurt they were feeling as individuals and as a team and allow them to take out their anger and grief in the aftermath of the tragic incident on the football field, hopefully in a positive, constructive way.
You could argue that the outcome of the game was meaningless in terms of the playoffs or its impact on the standings. Therefore, why go through with it? The other side of the issue harkens back to Crennel's remarks: "We're football players. That's what we do."
The Chiefs are walking a very difficult tightrope in processing and reflecting their internal feelings over this dreadful situation. On one hand, they are mourning the loss of one of their teammates, a hard-working, respected young player who was a starting linebacker on the team. To hear Chiefs' players tell it, they find it difficult to contemplate that the man they knew and befriended could do something this heinous and horrifying.
The fact remains, however, that Belcher took the life of an innocent woman before taking his own, and left a three-month-old baby without parents and the ultimate victim of this senseless crime.
These are two highly conflicting emotional states that the Chiefs' players and the team management are having to struggle with now and for the foreseeable future.
Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger, writing in Tuesday's newspaper on how the Chiefs are handling the situation now that the grief and mixed emotions are really starting to sink in, quoted Jamie Righter, co-founder of the Community Awareness and Support Center for victims and survivors of muder-suicides: "It's really vital they (the players) are allowed to grieve," Righter said. "Whether it's hurtful to other people or not, they're entitled to their feelings.
"He (Belcher) committed a horrific, tragic thing. But that doesn't mean his teammates aren't going to miss him. It doesn't mean they're doing anything wrong by remembering him," he said.
Prior to Sunday's game, the public address announcer at Arrowhead Stadium called for a moment of silence "for victims of domestic abuse," never mentioning Belcher's name or anything about what had happened 24 hours earlier, ending tragically just across the way at the Chiefs' practice facility.
Visibly and understandably shaken by the incident, having personally witnessed, along with general manager Scott Pioli, Belcher take his own life in the parking lot outside of the team's training facility on Saturday, Crennel did an admirable and highly professional job addressing the media and fielding reporters' questions both on Saturday in the immediate aftermath and again after the game on Sunday.. You knew he was hurting inside - how couldn't he be after what he experienced - but he overcame the emotional pain and demonstrated leadership and calm at a very emotionally charged and difficult time.
Clark Hunt also demonstrated strong leadership and his definite concern and caring for the team and its players. Immediately after learning of the horrible incident, the Chiefs' owner and chairman went to the hotel to be with the team. He was also on the sidelines on Sunday, something he rarely does.
It is very common for a team to wear black armbands or some type of insignia on the jerseys or helmets to honor a deceased team member or organization official, but Hunt made it clear from the outset that the Chiefs would not be doing that in this instance. There would be no public displays honoring the memory of a man who killed an innocent woman, the Chiefs' owner said.
The message opposing domestic abuse and that Belcher's unspeakable actions impacted two families, purposefully leaving out Belcher's name, came straight from the top of the Chiefs' organization.
I admire and respect Hunt and the Chiefs for taking these difficult actions. As a person who spent a number of years as an executive in the public relations profession, I can tell you that the Chiefs have handled this entire situation with the utmost class and professionalism. The team was out in front of these tragic events from the beginning, and the messaging by Chiefs' officials depicting the harrowing chain of events not only was morally correct but professionally prudent.
It is sad - and that's really too soft a word - that it took something as traumatic, tragic and nationally trumpeted as what happened this past weekend to bring out the team leadership and bring together the team as one, unlike anything thing we have seen from this organization all season long. Whether Sunday's winning performance will carry over in the Chiefs remaining four games, when the circumstances will be different and changed by the passage of time, remains to be seen.
But what was seen from this team in the aftermath of a terrible series of events over the weekend in which, in the team's words, "the Chiefs lost two members of it's family," was a real sense of oneness, a singleness of purpose and a coming together that has not existed since the Chiefs beat an undefeated Green Bay team, the reigning league champions, in the third to the last game a year ago, the week after Crennel took over for fired coach Todd Haley.
It should not have to come to this. Time will tell whether something good can come out of something so unbelievably awful. The Chiefs would be thankful for anything good that can help them get through the grief and emotional divide that undeniably has changed everyone in the organization - hopefully for the better, both as individuals and as a team.
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