Something awful has happened. Something we can't comprehend. A young athlete and a young mother are dead. A football team and two families are devastated. A baby has lost both of her parents before she will ever learn to say their names. And so today we grasp for answers because it's what we do whenever something awful and incomprehensible happens. Like in the death of Jovan Belcher.
This is human nature, after all. We need a cause to make sense of what can't be explained. Why else would a great American success story – a football player who rose from obscurity to a starting job in the NFL – murder his girlfriend? What drove him to do it? What took him to his employer's door and made him shoot himself in front of the men who brought him into professional football?
The Internet filled on Saturday morning with the usual culprits: It must be football. It must be head trauma. It must be the culture of on-field violence carried into real life.
Here is where we need to hit pause because we really don't know. The worst thing anyone can do in the hours after the worst story we've ever heard is try to solve the mystery without first hearing the clues.
Doctors have done great work in finding a connection between head trauma and inexplicable behavior. Were it not for an alert medical examiner in Pittsburgh who had a hunch, we would never have known that the telltale signs of what is commonly known as punch drunk syndrome were found in the brains of former Eagles safety Andre Waters, ex-Steelers Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk and Bengals receiver Chris Henry, all of whom killed themselves or spoke of suicide in the moments before their deaths.
But the problem with science yet to be properly analyzed is we can't use it to answer every question that doesn't make sense. Maybe football killed Jovan Belcher. Maybe it didn't. Any number of factors could have prompted Saturday's nightmare. None of those may have had a thing to do with the game he played.
Five years ago last week another young football player died. Sean Taylor was just 24. And because he was private and often surly in the presence of those he didn't know, assumptions were made. He had been in trouble in the past and that trouble made people think they knew what must have happened. In the hours after his death, many built what seemed to them an obvious connection: a gangster life led to his demise.
Only it wasn't true. Sean Taylor wasn't a gangster. He wasn't a thug. He was an intense and complicated man who trusted few people. The stories that emerged after his funeral told of a player who was so leery of others he once missed a day of team meetings to watch a plumber fix his bathroom just to be sure the job was done right.
The man who trusted no one died because he didn't connect the alarm to his house. Instead he believed he could defend himself. He kept a machete by his bed in the unlikely event of an intruder. Then when one came – apparently thinking he wasn't home – he raised the blade in self defense, startling the burglars who shot him.
The reality of his death was nothing like the initial perception. Supposedly his killers were robbers – with connections to family members – who had been inside his house and wanted a safe they believed to be filled with cash. He died because he was wealthy.
It may be a long time before we know what led to the horror of Saturday morning in Kansas City. A story will eventually spill out, answers will be given and maybe the inexplicable will make more sense. But that may take days, weeks or months. Explanations will come because what happened in the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium was so jarring that the path that brought Jovan Belcher there will eventually reveal itself.
Until then the worst thing we can do is grab at the easiest answer simply because it makes us comfortable. All it can do is taint the real reason, the one that might be the next cautionary tale that could prevent something like this from happening again.
[Related: Season full of off-field tragedy]
Instead we should remember that the Kansas City Chiefs are going to play a football game just a day after their worst morning. We should remember that a player is gone in another senseless death. A mother has died.
And a baby is going to grow up without ever knowing either of them.
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
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Jovan Belcher