Some Thoughts on Jovan Belcher and Media Coverage
Now that I’ve had some time to sort of survey the scene I have a few thoughts I’d like to share regarding my perspective of media coverage of the Kansas City Chiefs player who murdered his girlfriend in front of his mother and then took his own life in front of team staff.
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Throwaway Language Should Be Thrown Away
I keep seeing a lot of people writing articles (and being praised for writing articles) that talk about not forgetting victim and how we should be putting all the focus on the victim (even though the family has asked for privacy). Unfortunately, most of those articles mention the victim and a few details about her but do not make any sort of case about why that is such a popular tact to take. I’m not saying we shouldn’t remember victims I’m just wondering why so many personal essays are being written to say the same.exact.thing.
There is a lot of information out there about Belcher’s victim Kasandra Perkins. We know that she met Belcher through her cousin Whitney at a holiday party 5 or 6 years ago when she was about 17. We know that Belcher and Perkins began dating in February 2010 and that she moved to Kansas to be with him after only a few months of dating. We also know she enrolled in community college and wanted to be a teacher and had a group of about 6 friends she hung with on a regular basis who all met at their favorite Mexican restaurant to connect with each other after hearing of the murder. Her instagram photos and other related social media profiles have also all been provided by the media. If you’re not informed about Kasandra Perkins, you might need to broaden the scope of materials you read.
Since the folks who are pushing us to go to greater lengths to remember the victim in this situation are not explaining what it means, how it can be accomplished and what it actually does accomplish makes it feel like throwaway language. My hunch is that it’s the thing you say when you’re uncomfortable with talking about Belcher and seeming to celebrate his life or provide a sense of celebrity to what he did. There’s also a lot of sensitivity about celebrities being talked about at the expense of regular people and the things that powerful men (and all men) get away with when it comes to violence against women and the excuses that can be made for their acts. I totally get it.
I prefer to focus on Jovan because 1. I’m a sports blogger and not a crime blogger 2. black men are killing their pregnant or newly post partum partners at a much more significant rate than white men. In 2009, CBS reported that black women are 11 times more likely to be killed while pregnant or within a year of delivering a baby than are white women. These numbers are communicated from the female victim’s perspective but since black women are the least likely group to date interracially you can assume most of their partners are black men. And, therefore, these crimes are being committed by black men. This is important because black people tend to think of these kinds of crimes as largely white because that is how the media typically portrays them.
Additionally, new information regarding football players and concussions and decision making, drug abuse, and depression is coming out every day. I’d like to be informed about all the factors (football related and non-football related) that leads to something like this. Do these men present any consistent signs? Are we doomed to all live in a world where this can happen to any woman in any situation? It seems there is info to glean from Belcher’s life but little to learn from Perkins’ life because his violent act was not her fault.
For that reason, I don’t think people should be made to feel guilty or lacking because they spend extensive time talking about Belcher and his life and possible mindset. But people are paralyzed by this odd fear of “feeling sorry for” Belcher that I don’t quite understand. It is so weird to me to see people actively censor their feelings. You can have compassion for a tortured man as well as the person he murdered. You can both empathize with the fact that Belcher was struggling inside and also be utterly disgusted with him for killing his girlfriend. I refer to it as emotional multi tasking.
People are also afraid of “making excuses” for Belcher, a topic I address further down in this post.
Some Critiques of Sports Media Coverage Have Been Unfair
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen or read Bob Costas’ gun control monologue so I cannot comment on that.
Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitch made some relevant and valid critiques of how the Sunday game shows handled the story giving Fox props for setting the correct tone and framing the short conversation surrounding Belcher and Perkins. I think it’s fair to say that sports media has crippled itself when it comes to covering some of these stories within the proper context because there is such heavy emphasis on former athletes as analysts and a dearth of real broadcast journalists who may be able to lend a steadier hand and some seriousness to discussions.
That being said, I do not expect sports media to cover this story the way someone on a general beat would cover it and I think it’s unfair to have that expectation. There have been complaints that the media has turned this into a concussion story or another football tragedy. Those folks have argued that this is not a football issue because, as I stated earlier, men of all races are killing their partners everyday with about 12 such murder-suicides happening each week in the United States and over 90%+ perpetrated by men according to the Violence Policy Center.
I get where they’re coming from; however I still think the football angle should be explored and I expect sports media to do that. If a member of the military suffering from PTSD kills a partner the PTSD angle is going to be one of many approaches to the story. If there is a rash of domestic violence perpetrated by guys on Wall Street you would (and should) expect the media to look at the particular circumstances that men in that profession are dealing with. Football is no different. Nothing precludes the media writ large from exploring this issue with a wider lens which is what folks would be better served to lobby for not just now but on a continual basis.
Media Shouldn’t Be Totally Blamed for the Leaps People Take with Information
When the KC star initially reported that Belcher and his girlfriend argued about her staying out late i saw alot of folks saying “there must be more to it than that.” Well…umm…of course! lol The media’s job is to report details as they come available not to withold all information just because it’s become clear that critical thinking is a rarefied skill. Perhaps the inverted pyramid writing style should be amended to include a line at the end that says “this probably isn’t all the information you need to make a determination about the story contained above.” LOL
I saw lots of reactions to Deadspin’s decision to post emails from one of Belcher’s friends that people perceived as blaming the victim, something that Deadspin addressed with the “source” and mentioned in their article.
I agree that the emails seemed to implicate the victim as a provocateur. However, again, critical thinking comes in handy here. 1. Deadspin made it clear that the source was Belcher’s friend…so any reading of what he provided should be done with that in mind. 2. Deadspin printed the emails that they received without much commentary. I’d have been offended if Deadspin had paraphrased which I think would have been super one-sided. I think they made the right choice to publish what they received without much editorializing. 3. There are no perfect victims. So as additional information is inevitably revealed that paints Perkins in a light that isn’t angelic, people should remember that Perkins murder isn’t terrible because she was a perfectly sweet young woman…her murder is terrible because it was terrible! No matter how much she yelled at him, left and came back, threatened to take money or whatever. Even the most crotchety woman doesn’t deserve to be murdered with nine bullets. Quite frankly, I’m tired of men believing that if a woman doesn’t behave as HE thinks she should then she deserves ____ (whatever ____ may be).
Rather than going on rants about the media printing information they received, it might be more beneficial to remind people of these points. Information is just that — information. I don’t expect the media to withhold details assuming I won’t know what to do with them.
I’ve written before about how saturated the media has become with op-eds and personal essays (and obviously opinion blogs like this one) more than ever before. We might be getting to the point where everyone must be told what to think and can’t simply be provided information and left to form an opinion on their own. I also think that people are setting up strawmen just for the sake of writing a persuasive personal essay because that’s what gets published/attention these days.
Relatedly, people were upset that the media used photos of Belcher smiling (killers smile folks!) and showed photos of the enshrinement his teammates left for him in the locker room. Again, it’s not the media’s job to tell a man’s teammates how to grieve him or how to remember him or to choose photos that are more fitting of a convenient stereotype of murderers than reality. Why are we so uncomfortable with the truth of matters?? I’ve even heard people complain that folks stated to the media that Belcher was, as far as they knew, a great father and person. The fact that he murdered someone doesn’t change his friends and families’ recollection. I just don’t know what people want the segment of the media that reports information rather than opinies on it to do.
If the segment of the media that opines wants to point out issues with the Chief’s players’ enshrinement that’s fine. I don’t think that’s a topic for a news reporter to address in a recap of the day.
Some People and Outlets Might Need to Slow Down
I am seeing lots of people sharing stories of domestic violence in relation to Perkins and Belcher’s case. I’m not ready for this yet though I do understand why others are. Right now, there have been ZERO reports that Belcher ever committed a PHYSICALLY violent act against Perkins prior to the murder. It was hard for me to believe that the first physically violent act a man commits against a woman could be a murder but apparently as much as 30% of women do not experience any physical violence from their partner until they’re pregnant or right after they give birth.
I’m worried about muddying the waters. I think there are some very damaging assumptions we make when it comes to violence against women. For example, there is a perception that most women are raped by a stranger in some violent confrontation on the street. That is absolutely and unequivocally incorrect. Women need to know that most women are raped by someone they know and are not beaten rather overpowered, humiliated and intimidated. The way we think of these things matter. The improper way that rape is framed leads a lot men to believe they or their friends are not rapists when, in fact, they ARE.
If it is true (and again we don’t know in Belcher’s case yet) that there are men out there who murder women without ever physically touching them in violence previously, I think it’s important for people to know that physical abuse isn’t necessarily the primary sign that something like this is likely to take place. From there, we can talk about what, if any, other reliable signs there are.
I’m not sure if I worded that correctly because I don’t think women should ever need a reason to share their stories of physical violence and certainly domestic violence should be discussed more often and in accurate terms. But I’m worried about the promotion of “absolute” perceptions when they don’t apply and linking things so as to make a general point when a more specific one is readily available.
Social Media Presence Is Not An Indicator of Relationship Health
This is more of an aside…but I can’t help but notice how surprised people are that a couple with “happy” social media pics could be in a volatile relationship with one another. Social media allows people to share what they want others to see. There was nothing in Ms. Perkins instagram photos, for example, to indicate that she was in a rocky relationship with a man who drank heavily every night. But apparently that is the truth of the matter.
When Chiefs QB Brady Quinn made a point about the need to connect with each other in a real way and not via social media I was skeptical of that point but after thinking about it I understand. We can keep up with many of each other’s life decisions, jobs, babies and other surface changes via social media. There are some things that you just cannot learn while scrolling through someone’s sanitized facebook page. If we really want to know each other we have to pursue relationships on a personal level. But be mindful that even in personal relationships people often keep the tough stuff to themselves for myriad reasons. Never assume you know it all.
Information I referenced above and reports I think are useful: