On Jovan Belcher, Murder-Suicide and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in NFL Players

67-300x210Like a lot of people, I was shocked when I first heard the tragic news that National Football League (NFL) player Jovan Belcher had shot and killed his girlfriend, 22 year old Kasandra Perkins, before killing himself in front of the stadium his team played and practiced at last week.

Shocked at first because here was a guy, 25 years old, in the the prime of his life, making millions of dollars and yet for whatever reason, got to a point where he thought the only way out was to take the life of his 22 year old girlfriend and the mother to his infant child.

I don’t have any intimate details about Jovan Belcher or his relationship with his girlfriend, but I think it’s safe to say that Belcher was not in his right mind when he committed this tragedy and that the biggest victim of this incident is the orphaned child left behind.

I also think it’s safe to say that this was an act of domestic violence, even if the couple had no history of domestic violence, because killing your spouse, even in a fit of rage, is the ultimate act of domestic violence.

In my area, there has been a rash of domestic violence situations that have lead to homicide or murder-suicides lately. Most of these men were mentally/emotionally disturbed individuals.

A lot of times this type of incident comes from the desire to control other people and situations that we cannot control.

Sometimes when someone feels like they have exhausted themselves of every rational choice, they resort to very irrational and in this case, permanent choices that are destructive.

Also, many people who commit suicide often do not plan it, but do so impulsively.This seems to be the case often, especially when it comes to men.

In a fit of anger, irrational thinking, and/or sadness, picking up a gun and pulling the trigger probably wasn’t thought out completely, put an impulsive reaction.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease that is seen in some people who have had multiple concussions or head injuries.

CTE and many similar conditions strike numerous NFL players, boxers, wrestlers, hockey players and soldiers, often leading to poor memory, coordination, depression and impulsive behavior.

Signs of CTE were seen in former NFL player Junior Seau, who shot himself in the chest in 2012. NFL player Dave Duerson, who before committing suicide, sent a text message to his family asking that his brain be donated to the Boston University research center because he felt as if his brain was “sick”.

Other recent NFL suicides include former NFL player Ray Easterling who shot himself in April, and 25 year old NFL player O.J. Murdock who shot himself in July.

Signs of CTE were also seen in an University of Pennsylvania Football player, who abruptly committed suicide in 2010.

Signs of CTE and other degenerative brain conditions are also showing up in Afghan and Iraq war veterans, many of them have committed suicide and other tragic, impulsive acts as well.

I’m not saying that CTE or any other brain condition was the cause of this tragedy, but I think it has to be taken into consideration as well as Belcher’s mental state.

Like in the military, in the NFL and other male professional sports, it’s often not popular to talk about feelings or problems, so men don’t. They hold it in and deal with them in the best way they know how, often ending up in situations where the only way they see out is through destruction of some type (violence, alcohol, drugs, etc.).

Maybe if Belcher had someone he felt he could talk to about what was going on, this wouldn’t have happened, who knows.

I do know that our society discourages men in most cases from talking about how they really feel and that in turn often leads to angry, depressed, damaged, frustrated, and hurt men who sometimes go on to hurt themselves and/or others.

I don’t want to speculate too much on this situation, but I do want us as a society to talk more about men dealing with their feelings and breaking through the stereotypes of manhood and letting men know it’s okay to ask for help.

Six current or former football players have killed themselves in the last two years, four in the last eight months.

Maybe this goes along with the CTE and impulse control theory or with men not talking about their problems theory. In my opinion, in many circumstances it may be a combination of both.

This is disturbing. Even without looking at CTE, this gives us a quick glimpse into the state of men in general when it comes to mental/emotional health.