KANSAS CITY --
From time to time we get a jolting reminder of how insignificant sports can be.
One came Saturday morning when Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed girlfriend Kasandra Perkins. Belcher, 25, then drove five miles from their home to Arrowhead Stadium and, in front of Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel, committed suicide.
Suddenly the jokes about the Chiefs, who have the NFL’s worst record, no longer are funny. The ongoing movement Kansas City fans organized to encourage the team to fire Pioli will take a Sunday off.
The Kansas City-Carolina game will go on, however, and why wouldn’t it? The Charlotte Observer still would publish if I were Belcher. Your employer probably would continue to conduct business if you were.
What would anybody gain by pushing the game back a day?
Sports are one of our great diversions. They’re not life or death regardless of what message-board zealots contend. But they allow us an emotional, and often thrilling, escape. Walk around Charlotte the day after a game and you can tell, without eavesdropping or talking to anybody, whether the Panthers won or lost.
Perhaps money will be raised at Arrowhead for the almost three-month-old daughter Belcher and Perkins, 22, leave behind.
I landed in Kansas City mid-afternoon Saturday. By then Belcher’s name already had been removed from the roster on the team’s website. How would you like to be the man who replaces him Sunday in the lineup?
By the time I landed the mayor and police spokesman already had talked. The Chiefs hadn’t and weren’t about to. I went to the hotel at which the Panthers stayed but could find nobody interested in discussing Belcher. I don’t blame them. What were they going to say?
The story is obvious. You don’t know the players you cheer and I don’t know the players I write about.
You see them on Sunday, doing their work beneath a helmet, and get a feel for what they can and can’t do. I talk to them and perhaps get a feel for who they are. But I know only what they show me. I asked a Kansas City broadcaster and photographer waiting outside Carolina’s hotel on a balmy Saturday afternoon with holiday decorations sparkling behind them if they knew Belcher. They said they knew him better than they knew most of the Chiefs. He was from New York (Long Island). He played at Maine. He seemed like one of the team’s nice guys. But they didn’t pretend to know him. Belcher, who was undrafted, became a starting NFL linebacker. To enter the league as one of the many and become one of the few ought to be a great gig.
But we’re more than what we do. We better be.
I suspect players battle the same demons the rest of us do.
And then something happens, or we think it does, and perspective becomes more elusive than any tailback. We snap – who knows why? – and nothing ever will be the same. The tragedy in Kansas City gets to most of us. We can’t make sense of it. So we turn to what’s safe. We turn to the people we love and tell them we love them and ask them to please, please, please, be careful.
Then we go back to our lives. For millions of us, our lives include the NFL on Sunday afternoon.
I have no idea what Carolina-Kansas City is going to feel like. It might feel exciting. It might feel thrilling. I can’t imagine it will feel important.