On Saturday morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot himself at Arrowhead Stadium after killing his girlfriend. The 25 year-old professional football player hadn’t missed a start with the Chiefs since he began there in 2009. Belcher and his girlfriend leave behind a 3-month old baby girl. Both the Chiefs’ head coach and general manager witnessed the suicide early Saturday morning.
All of the Kansas City Chiefs players commented that Belcher was a great teammate and someone who worked hard on and off the field. Everyone around him didn’t see any warning signs and can’t grasp why Belcher would end his life. A professional athlete whose dream came true with supportive teammates and a baby daughter; what could have been so bad that he chose to take such drastic measures?
While the actions of Jovan Belcher were tragic, one positive lesson that comes from this situation is the attention it draws to mental illness. Clearly, Belcher was not in his right state of mind when he went trigger happy on Saturday morning. Mental illness does not discriminate or come with a warning. All different types of people suffer from depression, rage, anxiety and various other problems that put them into a dark place. Sometimes there are warning signs, but usually there aren’t. The only real way to help those suffering from mental illness is to remove the stigma from such diseases. People should not be afraid to talk about what they are feeling, regardless of how extreme.
The Kansas City Chiefs released a statement Saturday saying how great a loss it was and sent prayers to his family. More importantly, the Chiefs did not become involved in any of the speculated drama between Belcher and his girlfriend. They focused their message on the loss of their teammate. The most poignant statement was the Chiefs continuing to play their game on Sunday to honor their fallen teammate and his love for the game.
In response to the Jevon Belcher suicide, the NFL launched a suicide help line for current and former NFL players. All phone calls will be kept confidential and the service will be ran independently from the NFL. On their website, there are a series of videos featuring NFL players including Brett Favre telling players that it is okay to ask for help. This is an important step for the NFL to take in order to support all its players. It is also a smart, conscious response to a crisis that shines a positive light on a negative situation.
I am beyond happy to see the NFL aid its players in the real struggle they are facing today. By bringing the issue of suicide to the forefront, hopefully other players and people will be able to get help. Suicide is not something to joke about and must be taken seriously. If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, remember there are people out there to help you.