A somber Kansas City Chiefs football team took inspiration from tragedy to end an eight-game losing streak Sunday, a day after a player committed suicide after killing his girlfriend.
Playing in the shadow of tragedy, the Chiefs beat the Carolina Panthers 27-21, in the wake of an incident in which police said Kansas linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed the 22-year old mother of his infant daughter.
He then drove to the team’s Arrowhead Stadium and turned a gun on himself before fatally pulling the trigger in front of a coach and other staff.
“We have so many guys on the team and on the coaching staff who are really hurting”
Chiefs chief executive Clark Hunt
The murder-suicide was part of a traumatic weekend in the NFL, with the Cleveland Browns confirming that groundskeeper Eric Eudker had been found dead on Saturday – reportedly after hanging himself in a team maintenance shed.
Belcher’s actions left the league reeling ahead of Sunday’s match for an already struggling Chiefs team, which had won just one other game this season.
“It’s been an incredibly difficult 24 hours for our family and the entire organization,” Chiefs chief executive Clark Hunt told the Kansas City Star before the game.
“We have so many guys on the team and on the coaching staff who are really hurting.”
Hunt said he left the decision on whether to play up to players and head coach Romeo Crennel, who was among the Chiefs staff present when Belcher, 25, arrived on Saturday shortly after shooting his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins.
As police descended on Arrowhead Stadium in response to an emergency call, Belcher shot himself, Kansas City police spokesman Darin Snapp said.
Crennel, general manager Scott Pioli and another Chiefs staff member had gone outside to talk to Belcher.
“Belcher thanked them for being a Chief, and that’s when he walked away,” Snapp said. When he was 30 or 40 feet (nine to 12 meters) away, Belcher killed himself with one gunshot to his head.
“I spent the evening last night at the team hotel with them,” Hunt told ESPN before the game.
“I wanted to be there with the team, with the coaches, to let them know I love them and support them and know what they’re going through, and particularly the guys who were present in the parking lot when Jovan took his life. I know this has to be incredibly difficult.”
The couple left a recently born daughter. Police said she was in the care of Belcher’s mother who, when visiting from out of town, saw the first shooting at a house near the stadium and called authorities.
The Chiefs opted not to memorialize Belcher specifically on Sunday, but held a moment of silence before the game in recognition of victims of domestic violence.
Crennel was on the sideline, guiding the team to victory and Pioli was also at the game.
Belcher, who played high school football on Long Island, New York, had been with the Chiefs for four years. He joined them as an undrafted free agent out of university and worked his way into a starting position.
Police said Belcher and Perkins argued before he shot her, but the violence stunned those who knew the player.
“Something went crazy wrong, and we’ll probably never know what it is,” Belcher’s agent Joe Linta was quoted as saying on SI.com.