A Moment of Silence
This past weekend, Jovan Belcher, a starting linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed his girlfriend and mother of his child, Kasandra Perkins. He then drove down to the Chiefs stadium complex, requested the presence of his general manager and coach, thanked them for taking a chance on him, and shot and killed himself in front of them.
The following day, the team took the field against the Carolina Panthers. Before kickoff, the team held a moment of silence for victims of domestic violence.
Putting aside the violence of the game of football itself, there is something disingenuous about watching thousands of people observe a moment of silence for victims of domestic violence while concurrently getting ready to cheer for a game run by a league that continuously produces players who commit egregiously violent acts off the field.
In the coming days and months, I’m certain more and more information will surface, clarifying the horrifying story of the end of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher’s lives. There is speculation about concussions and brain damage as a reason for Belcher’s violence. Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports went as far to suggest this is an issue of gun control, arguing “if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.” He makes a solid argument that Kasandra and Jovan’s child would have living parents today if not for the lack of gun control. I don’t disagree, but I also think Whitlock fails to see the greater problem. It’s here where I’d like to point out that there are victims of domestic violence who are also survivors. I am one.
It’s an uphill battle surviving an abusive relationship, and I’m lucky enough to have escaped it. It’s difficult for me to explain how it feels for someone you love to clench his fist and pummel it into your body. It’s different from fear. It’s different from sadness. It’s different from anger. While being physically abused, I grew numb to violence.
Still, I am alive. I am alive to tell this story.
At certain points in my life following an abusive relationship, I used to believe that I might as well have been dead, that I wasn’t really living. When I went through the motions of everyday life, I felt as if I had floated out of my own body, looking down at a pathetic, lost soul. At other points, I panicked. I couldn’t breathe. I would cry uncontrollably, anticipating more violence to come. Those sorts of days were less and less common as I began to rely on friends and family for support. In fact, it was exactly those times when I was huddled in crowded sports bars watching football with friends and cheering for my team that I began to learn to trust once again. It’s in these spaces where I learned that the strongest men I know are the ones who treated me with respect as a sports fan, the ones who treated me with respect as a woman, and the ones who made me feel safe again.
Today, I ask the same question as Jason Whitlock. How many young people have to die senselessly? I agree gun control is a problem here in America. Still, I am dissatisfied with this explanation. As a woman and as a football fan, I am disheartened to see that we are still not asking the right questions.
The NFL is world where talent and athletic prowess trump all. Moreover, it is a world in which talent and athletic prowess are synonymous with masculinity, a show of power. I don’t mean to indict the NFL, the Chiefs organization, Jason Whitlock, or other sports fans. I am a sports fan myself. Rather, I am trying to point out that everyone in the sports community needs to focus more on providing healthy definitions of masculinity. Our understanding of violence and masculinity as we know it are entangled in ways we rarely question.
It’s here where we should remember the roots of violence. Violence isn’t simply about access to guns. Of course, serious gun control laws can limit all kinds of tragedy, but we also know that violence will not end because guns are less accessible. People use violence to exert power and control. Simultaneously, we define masculinity in terms of how well one can display that same power and control. Essentially, masculinity and violence are so interconnected that we take for granted how we define what makes “a real man.”
It’s time for the NFL and its followers to start focusing on the role it plays to shape our culture of violence. Football players are young men, and they are human beings. They live in the same world we all do, and it’s the same world that valorizes an idea of masculinity that promotes violence. We have referees on the field to make judgments about what actions are acceptable and what actions are not. Off the field, we all need to play a bigger role in learning that masculinity and violence are not the same thing, that abuse and violence are unacceptable.
Take a moment of silence to think about that.