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NFL making mistake by allowing Panthers-Chiefs game to go on as scheduled

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher apparently killed his girlfriend Saturday and then took his own life, the latter death having unfolded in the presence of general manager Scott Pioli and two coaches. The tragedy leaves a three-month-girl orphaned and a team and the larger NFL community in shock.

[Related: Police say the Chiefs' Jovan Belcher kills girlfriend, takes own life]

At this point, I would love not to focus on a football game, specifically the one slated to take place Sunday at noon Central time between the Chiefs and Carolina Panthers at Arrowhead Stadium.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what I'm doing because the game is expected to be played as scheduled.

I'm appalled that the team and league are sticking to the script, and I question the logic behind the decision. Pardon my skepticism, and that of one Chiefs player who predicted this in the wake of the tragedy: "It's all about money," he said.

In this particular situation, it shouldn't be. If the NFL wanted to do the right thing for the players, coaches and team employees reeling from this horrible occurrence — not to mention the loved ones of Belcher and, most of all, Kasandra Perkins, the woman he is believed to have slain — the league should have postponed the game until at least Monday, or canceled it.

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An officer walks by the house where police say Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend. (AP)

Yeah, I know, the NFL is a big business, and the warriors who play in it are asked to push through adversity to perform at almost any cost. In recent years, games weren't canceled after Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chris Henry and Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor suffered sudden and tragic deaths. I understand why some people want the Chiefs to swallow their grief and strap it on and help tens of thousands of fans through the healing process.

I just happen to think they're wrong.

As Chiefs offensive tackle Eric Winston enunciated so eloquently in October after some fans at Arrowhead cheered when quarterback Matt Cassel suffered a concussion, these men are not gladiators. They are human beings, and while they may be tougher than most humans on the outside, that is not necessarily the case when it comes to coping with emotionally devastating circumstances.

[Related: Mayor says Scott Pioli 'very emotional' after witnessing death]

The abrupt loss of a teammate and friend is a tough thing to confront. The fact that Belcher apparently committed a homicide carries even darker overtones. That Belcher's death happened at the workplace is another level of horror. That it happened in front of Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel and apparently another coach makes the notion of playing on Sunday even more dubious. Asking the organization to soldier on through Sunday's game – a decision the Chiefs said was made in large part by Crennel and team captains – is absurd and unreasonable in my opinion. They need grief counseling — which the NFL, to its credit, is providing — and they should get at least 24 hours to collect themselves and assess their respective emotional states.

A head coach typically addresses the team on Saturday night and presides over meetings, then speaks to the players again on Sunday morning before they take the field. In addition, the head coach oversees many other aspects of the football operation during the weekend of a home game. Should Crennel be expected to handle these matters in a business-as-usual fashion? The answer, to me, seems obvious.

"It is a tough and tragic situation," NFL Coaches Association executive director David Cornwell said. "There is no precedent for this and the impact on family, teammates and particularly those who witnessed it must be unimaginable."

I communicated with two Chiefs players in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and while neither was enthusiastic about the prospect of playing Sunday, both seemed resigned to the notion. When I asked one player how the league could expect him and his teammates to be ready to play so quickly after the incident, he replied, "Because it's the NFL. Do they really care?"

Certainly, this tragedy doesn't compare on a national level to those of President John F. Kennedy's assassination and the Sept. 11 terror attacks, but the NFL would have been wise to remember some past lessons about pushing forward in the wake of widespread grieving.

After JFK was shot and killed on a Friday afternoon in 1963, the following Sunday's games were played as scheduled, and then-commissioner Pete Rozelle later cited that as the biggest regret of his long tenure.

Following 9/11 (on a Tuesday), the league was prepared to repeat the mistake, but a player-driven groundswell helped persuade Rozelle's successor, Paul Tagliabue, to override the wishes of numerous owners and postpone the games scheduled for the following weekend.

[Related: Latest incident in a tragic year for the NFL]

Eleven years later, this is almost universally regarded as a good decision. The horrific events that took place in Kansas City may not resonate as deeply, but for the men and women who work in the Chiefs' organization — and, most of all, the ones who witnessed Belcher taking his own life — pushing forward with Sunday's game is absolutely the wrong call.

For the NFL, this was a chance to show that, contrary to the skepticism of some men who wear the uniform, it's not all about the money.

If nothing else, pausing for a day to reassess the situation would have demonstrated sensitivity and respect for Perkins, her loved ones and the infant daughter that will grow up without her parents. For the NFL, on this terrible Saturday, that is what it should be all about.

More Belcher coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
The NFL world reacts to the Jovan Belcher tragedy
The Chiefs’ sad list of tragedies includes another murder-suicide
Chiefs-Panthers game will go on as scheduled

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