Tragedies Like Kansas City Should Cancel NFL Games

A "show must go on" attitude robs football of its humanity.

On Saturday morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend and the mother of his child, Kasandra Perkins, and then drove to the team’s practice facility and shot himself, in front of coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli.

Of course, this entire story is one of the most horrific things imaginable, especially considering a three-month-old child will grow up without a mother or father. And there’s probably a lot we don’t know about what happened. Was this another in the long line of tragedies connected to concussions in sports? It’s possible, but we really don’t know.

Considering this was an off-the-charts nightmare scenario that was completely unprecedented, the Chiefs themselves seemed to handle things pretty well. Quarterback Brady Quinn was widely praised for what we had to say, and Quinn doesn’t get praised very often. I was afraid the Chiefs would wear a helmet decal with Belcher’s number, or something, but they didn’t.

The Chiefs and Carolina Panthers did play a game on Sunday, in the same stadium where, a little more than 24 hours earlier, a player had blown himself away in front of the head coach and general manager. Should they have played? I really don’t think so.

In 1963, the NFL went ahead and played a full slate of games two days after the Kennedy assassination, which then-commissioner Pete Rozelle long said was the biggest regret of his long tenure. The league kept that in mind when it took a week off following the 9/11 attacks, but mostly the only circumstance that has caused the moving or delay of an NFL game has been either severe weather or stadium unavailability. One of those instances, an Eagles game in 2010 that was delayed two days, led to our distinguished former mayor and governor calling us “a nation of wusses.”

I just find something untoward about the teams going ahead with the game, as if to send a message that “no matter the level of tragedy, there’s one thing more important than all else: football.”

This fits into a tendency in recent years, with the NFL, that I find quite distasteful—that “the show must go on” at all costs. It’s the same attitude—whether coming from sportswriters, coaches, or active players—that attacks and even questions the masculinity of athletes for not playing through debilitating injuries, and also criticizes people like the Bears’ Charles Tillman for talking about missing a game to witness the birth of his child. (Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, in a particularly loathsome moment,  went so far as to suggest that NFL players and their wives should time their pregnancies so as not to result in in-season births.)

I love football as much as anybody, but the game isn’t more important than the safety of players.

The closest thing to Saturday’s events in Kansas City took place in world of pro wrestling, when WWE star Chris Benoit murdered his wife and his young son before taking his own life in June 2007. That was followed by a long period of hand-wringing about wrestling, its many, many premature deaths, and that business’ penchant for leaving young, broken, drug-addicted men to meet bad ends. Sports fans are notorious for not living up to their pledges to no longer watch a particular sport or team, but I know a whole lot of people who never watched WWE again after Benoit.

Will the same thing happen in football? I almost guarantee that it won’t, in any large numbers. I expect concussions to be for football what steroids were for baseball in the ’90s—something that most fans feel a little bad about, but not enough to stop watching.