Jovan Belcher: From UMaine football star to monster

Posted Nov. 30, 2013, at 6:03 a.m.
Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Jovan Belcher (59) on the field before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field last year.
Charles LeClaire | US PRESSWIRE
Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Jovan Belcher (59) on the field before playing the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field last year.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton (19) prepares to deliver a pass as Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher (59) takes to the air while defending the play in the first quarter on August 10, 2012, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Shane Keyser | MCT
Arizona Cardinals quarterback John Skelton (19) prepares to deliver a pass as Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher (59) takes to the air while defending the play in the first quarter on August 10, 2012, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Jovan Belcher, a member of the 2006 University of Maine football team.
Jovan Belcher, a member of the 2006 University of Maine football team.
Jovan Belcher (9) was the team's leading tackler while at the University of Maine.
Jovan Belcher (9) was the team's leading tackler while at the University of Maine.
Former UMaine player Jovan Belcher in 2008.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Former UMaine player Jovan Belcher in 2008.

The overtaking of Jovan Belcher began not on the morning he died.

See, that’s the misconception of violent acts committed by violent people — that a singular moment tells us most of what we need to know.

Well, it’s not the moment. It’s the buildup to the moment. It’s the millions of little things that take you from there to here. From boy to man. From special-teamer to starter. From kind and warm and generous and giving to, well, dead. Murder. Suicide. Heartbreak. Nightmare.

It’s an awkward concept to grasp, and an even more awkward one to explain. Because it means our biggest monsters traveled a meandering path toward what they would become. It means that, once upon a time, monsters were blank slates. People of innocence and hopes and dreams. It means opening oneself up to the suggestion that Belcher was not — as has been frequently suggested — bred a monster.

Wait. A clarification. On the day he died, Belcher was a monster. This, there is no denying — and even his closest friends will concede the point. When, on the morning of Dec. 1, 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker shot and killed Kasandra Perkins — his live-in girlfriend and the mother of their 3-month-old daughter, Zoey — Belcher was a monster.

When he drove his black Bentley to Arrowhead Stadium, requested an audience with Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel, the team’s general manager and coach, respectively, he was a monster. When he placed the .40-caliber handgun to his skull and pulled the trigger — leaving Zoey without a father, leaving Cheryl Shepherd without a son — he was a monster.

“Jovan was my friend,” says Thomas Jones, the former Chiefs running back. “I loved him, and I wish I could have helped him work through the demons. But what he did was a horrible, horrible act. There’s no getting around that.”

There is, however, getting into that. Or, to be more precise, trying to understand it. The same Belcher who owned eight guns as a Kansas City Chief was, while a student at the University of Maine, an active member of Male Athletes Against Violence, an organization that urged jocks to speak out against abusive acts. He possessed zero firearms then.

“When I heard what Jovan did, I thought, ‘That can’t be right,’” says Sandy Caron, a professor of family relations and human sexuality at UMaine, and the anti-violence group’s founder. “They said ‘Jovan Belcher’ on the news and my response was, ‘They said “Jermaine,” right? Please tell me they said “Jermaine.”’”

The same Jovan Belcher who used a .40-caliber handgun to shoot Perkins nine times eagerly volunteered to partake in the Chiefs’ myriad charitable endeavors.

“We used to do these school visits, and Jovan would just light up around kids,” says Josh Looney, who spent seven years in the team’s media marketing department. “Some guys have no interest in that stuff. Not Jovan. If we needed players to hand out turkeys or talk to students, he was there.”

The same Jovan Belcher who left his infant daughter without parents was — just three months earlier — ecstatic about her arrival into the world.

“I saw Jovan mature that day,” says Kash Kiefer, a close friend and UMaine teammate who was at the hospital with Belcher. “All he wanted to do was be a great dad and give Zoey a wonderful life. It was as if his dream had come true.”

This is the complexity that makes tragedies so difficult to dissect and understand. We have a need for white hats and black hats — to be able to classify somebody as, simply, “a good guy” or “a bad guy.” Really, though, perhaps what we should be seeking out are not labels, but etchings along life’s path.

How does someone morph from “Everybody’s All-American” to “Natural-Born Killers”? How does someone go from an athlete against violence to a man singularly responsible for the most violent act in NFL history?

How did the Jovan Belcher of Dec. 1, 2012, come to be?

Excerpted from “A Year After Jovan Belcher’s Final Act, Friends Offer Clues to Tragic Downfall,” courtesy of Bleacher Report. To read the full story, visit http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1861645-a-year-after-jovan-belchers-final-act-friends-offer-clues-to-tragic-downfall.

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