Jovan Belcher will be remembered for one of the most egregious acts ever committed by an NFL player: the fatal shooting of a young mother, followed by his own suicide in front of a head coach and GM who tried to stop him from further violence. By bringing a loaded weapon to his workplace, Belcher risked several more lives than he took.
And yet the portrait of him emerging in the aftermath of his inexplicable behavior is one of a 25-year-old man who had a history of making mature choices. That included joining a campus group called Male Athletes Against Violence. As part of the organization, according to USA Today, Belcher would have had to sign a pledge promising to "look honestly at my actions in regards to violence and make changes, if necessary." Even beyond that, Belcher majored in child development and family relations at the University of Maine, where he starred on the football field before jumping to the NFL.
"He's very much in control of himself and comes across very soft-spoken, an absolute gentleman," Maine coach Jack Cosgrove told the Bangor Daily News in 2008. "He's able to blend this quiet confidence, this demeanor, with his passion for learning, becoming a better person, a better student, a better football player."
The NFL is a league filled with celebrities, players who come to prominence as college athletes in the public eye and then become household names across the country. Belcher's story, however, is one of relative anonymity. He got one scholarship offer, to Maine, and he made the most of it, becoming a star and a leader. He went undrafted in 2009 yet still latched on with the Chiefs and became a starter. "I think he's a guy that's impressed us all from early on," then-head coach Todd Haley told the Kansas City Star, "and I think we've got a potential player there. That's a guy that needs to be on the field." He stayed on the field, starting in 10 of 11 games this season. He recently signed a contract worth nearly $2 million.
Belcher's story, until this weekend, was the stuff of inspiration for boys who choose a big dream and cling to it no matter what. "He was the standard," former Maine defensive coordinator Robb Smith told Sports Illustrated. "He was never a guy in trouble on campus." Belcher's focus seemed unwavering, not only on the field where he became a starting NFL linebacker despite being decidedly undersized at 228 pounds, but also off it, as he honed his athletic skills in high school wrestling. Anyone who chooses that sport knows it is among the most mentally challenging of all athletic pursuits. Belcher's love of wrestling is another indication of the dedication it took to reach the top of the sporting world. He found time to star on the mat and play four different positions at West Babylon High on Long Island.
"My mother is a hard-working woman," he told the Bangor Daily News. "To see her overcome some things and succeed, it makes me look at things and say, 'This isn't even hard.' "
Belcher's high school position coach told the paper how much his former player wanted to impress his mom, both on and off the field. He certainly did that at Maine, winning first-team All-American honors in the Football Championship Subdivision. He also graduated in less than four years. Last year, Belcher became a regional winner of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports' Scholar-Baller Program Academic Momentum Award. He also spent time doing charitable work while with the Chiefs. Former Maine teammate Mike Brusko told the Morning Call his old friend "was like a brother to me."
"He accomplished so many things individually, but he never once talked about himself," Brusko said. "He was always more happy and excited for his friends. It feels strange to talk [about] him in the past tense. It's very difficult."
And yet just as many good things can be said about Belcher's girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, who is now dead at 22. She moved to Kansas City from Texas, and planned to become a schoolteacher before giving birth to a baby girl in September. The argument which led to her death began, according to the Kansas City Star, when Perkins returned late from a concert with friends.
"She was a very good person," a friend told the Star. "I don't know why he'd want to hurt her like that."
They were two passionate people with promising futures. But because of what Belcher has done, their stories are now over. Only troubling questions, fond memories and poignant photos of a beautiful young family are left behind.
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