Monday, December 03, 2012

The Kasandra Perkins Case

Kansas City Chiefs' starting linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, then drove to the football training facility and killed himself in front of the coach and the general manager of the team.

When I first read about this awful story, I found the reports one-sided.  It was as if the death of Kasandra Perkins was almost accidental, something to be skimmed past quickly in order to get to the main topic:  the suicide of yet another football player.  After giving the fact that Belcher killed Perkins the rest of the stories were about him:  What a gentle person, what a great athlete, how very sad it all was and so on.

An example:

"Pioli and Crennel and another coach or employee was standing outside and appeared to be talking to him," Snapp said. "The suspect began to walk in the opposite direction of the coaches and the officers and that's when they heard the gunshot. It appears he took his own life."
The coaches told police they never felt in any danger.
"They said the player was actually thanking them for everything they'd done for him," Snapp said. "He was thanking them and everything. That's when he walked away and shot himself."
Members of the Chiefs mostly laid low Saturday, but a few reacted on Twitter.
"I am devastated by this mornings events," Pro Bowl linebacker Tamba Hali wrote. "I want to send my thoughts and prayers out to everyone effected by this tragedy."
A large group of Belcher's friends and relatives gathered Saturday at his boyhood home on Long Island.
His family turned the front yard into a shrine, with a large poster of Belcher, an array of his trophies, and jerseys and jackets from Kansas City, Maine and West Babylon High.
"He was a good, good person ... a family man. A loving guy," said family friend Ruben Marshall, who said he coached Belcher in youth football. "You couldn't be around a better person."
At least 20 people gathered for a large group hug in the driveway.
"He was a tremendous player and all those things, and his accolades speak for themselves, but he lit up when he spoke about his mom, or when he hugged his family after games," said Dwayne Wilmot, who was Belcher's position coach at Maine and is now an assistant coach at Yale.
"It's difficult to talk about Jovan in the past tense," he told the AP. "There's going to be unanswered questions, the why's of this tragedy. It'll never be truly known to us."
Wilmot said he'd stayed in touch with Belcher the past few years through social media.
"He was someone who took genuine pleasure in bringing happiness to others," Wilmot said. "I was so excited when he became a father, because I knew he'd be a great father."
His girlfriend's Facebook page shows the couple smiling and holding the baby.
Belcher is the latest among several players and NFL retirees to die from self-inflicted gunshot wounds during the past few years. The death of star linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself in the chest in at his California home last May, sent shockwaves around the league.

There was even one story where an economist explained why Belcher's suicide was rational!  This one day after Perkins was killed.  I find that in poor taste.  In any case, to explain Belcher's suicide as rational would seem to require a similar explanation for Perkins' killing.

It may be only my impression that the coverage of the murder-suicide improved a little over the hours.  I may have just happened on the worst treatment early.  But later coverage was more objective, i.e., covering the case the way it would be covered if the killer was someone unknown. 

You may have spotted, though, that I had to dig for those stories.  Most stories stay firmly on Jovan Belcher, because he was the famous one, because he was the gladiator we want to see face the lions (at a very good price) every day.  That the team decided not to cancel the game after one of the players turned out to be a killer tells me a lot.  The Business Of Football Must Go On.

Skimming through the headlines now I see stories about the large numbers of suicides in the NFL, stories asking questions about brain injury (but not about the use of steroids?).  These stories (including questions about gun availability) are looking for a cause for the events outside the person who killed someone and then killed himself.

That's fair, assuming that it can bring some change in the future.  But Kasandra Perkins still remains an unintended casualty in these stories, someone who got killed because Belcher didn't get the help he needed or perhaps someone who got killed because she fought too much with Belcher and so on.  She is made to play a bit part in her own death. 

What causes this biased coverage?  Some of it may have the flavor of the general way domestic killings are covered:  What made him do it?  Did he lose his job?  Was she cheating on him?  But mostly this is about celebrity and what happens when a killer or a suspected killer is the celebrity.  The publicity lens fogs up, needs to be adjusted, and suddenly writers are faced with how to cover a killer who only yesterday was their hero.

The killed ones tend to be forgotten if they are not also celebrities.  I have always felt that the coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial committed that sin.  Do you remember the name of the second victim in those deaths?

Ronald Goldman.  He and Nicole Brown Simpson died that night.