There is no right answer when tragedy comes calling. There is only the next thing. The Kansas City Chiefs are going forward with a football game today, a little more than 24 hours after one of their players murdered his girlfriend and mother of his infant child, and then turned the gun on himself in the Arrowhead practice facility parking lot, as GM Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel, and at least one other assistant coach tried to talk him down.
It’s horrific, it’s sad. It happens over and over in this country, in far less prominent situations where the vast majority of us just go about our day. Perhaps we catch a blurb in the local paper. We go about our day.
Today, Kansas City is going about its day.
I live about ten minutes from Arrowhead. While I normally sit in the comfort of my own home and watch multiple games throughout the day (and I will do so again today), I wanted to come get a feel for the crowd and environment at Arrowhead as the team prepared to play a game without a teammate who committed great violence, and with a coach who witnessed the final act.
I meandered through the crowds, and sometimes empty parking lot spaces, a little over two hours before game time. The only sign that something was different early on was the news helicopter lingering overhead for extra moments. Then again, maybe that only felt different because I knew that footage was likely being shot for updates from the stadium about what happened yesterday, as the crowd arrived.
Other than that, its a football day. I walked across the sparsely populated outer lots. Business as usual. Kids of various ages taking advantage of the large amounts of open space to throw a football. Scattered grills set up. The smell of smoke beginning to waft in the air as I hit the outskirts of civilization. I wandered through the more crowded lot directly to the east of the Stadium. Thousands of variations of bean bag toss games, from Chiefs to Ohio State to Iowa to all sorts of home made versions. Hundreds of variations of drinks. A man in a Chiefs inspired-Pope outfit. Heavy metal music, Stone Temple Pilots, and even some “Walking in Memphis” blaring out from various tailgating groups. The conversations were vulgar, and animated, and friendly, depending on the group.
Other than my presence here, I would not have known about Jovan Belcher, unless I actively sought it out. It was a football day at Arrowhead. The first mention I overheard about yesterday’s murder was passing a hipster woman just outside the West Gate, sitting on the large white stones that ring the stadium’s inner walkway, talking with others. I say hipster, because she was in the vast minority, not dressed in any team colors, and sporting a hat.
“Her death was the 100th murder in Kansas City this year,” she was explaining to her friends. Of course, I knew who “she” was.
In the tailgating crowd, though, it was food and fun with friends. I spoke with a group that included some local Carolina fans (see, they do exist around the country). When I asked about the mood and crowd and how it felt, the responses were initially talking about other things–no mention of the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide and the game going forward. We talked about Cam Newton and the Panthers, we talked about how bad the Chiefs were.
In another group, I went up to a guy wearing the “Colquitt” jersey, among a sea of Cassels, and congratulated him for recognizing the team’s true MVP. We talked about the crowd and the feel. He described it as a little smaller than the week before, but attributed that to possibly being due to the Broncos factor. Another in the group said that he would have been fine, as a season ticket holder, if the game wasn’t played at all because of the tragedy. “Just give us credit for the loss so we still get the 1st overall pick.”
Those I talked to used the same words that come to me when people are clamoring about whether the game should have been canceled. Conflicted. I totally understand the horror that Crennel must be addressing. I also don’t know that postponing it 24 hours would have mattered. Moving it to after everyone else had stopped playing was a non-starter–you might as well not play it at all.
I can only speak to my heart after being confronted with death. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and there is no magic moment. Staying busy can delay or obscure it. I’m sure they will get through this game, and collapse. Then another, then another, as time, the crowds, and life marches on.