02 Dec 2012
Jovan Belcher was a football player who died on Saturday by his own hand after killing his girlfriend, who was also the mother of his child. I write for an analytical sports site. Here is the last thing I wrote on Jovan Belcher before Saturday:
"The spot opposite Johnson in the middle is a total coinflip at this point. The Chiefs must not have been impressed by incumbent Jovan Belcher's performance, because they brought back Kansas City stalwart Demorrio Williams and signed San Diego's Brandon Siler just for good measure."
Here is what we wrote about him in Football Outsiders Almanac 2012:
"At the other inside line-backer spot, Jovan Belcher will have to hold off a challenge from Brandon Siler. A free-agent signee from the Chargers in 2011, Siler missed all of last season with a torn Achilles tendon."
He was a low-rated linebacker by our metrics in 2011, stopping the run at a 58 percent rate that was solidly below-average. He had one quarterback hit, four hurries, and allowed 5.2 yards per completion on plays that he covered.
He was also a human being.
One of the biggest problems I have with what has happened to mainstream football journalism is that it has tended to take on the same corporate shape that has defined most of the media these days. Outside of a select few people, who we get to know very well, the rest of it is swept under the rug. Teams hide important information from the media, believing that there is little advantage to letting everything out. Players hide important information from the media, believing that there is little advantage to letting everything out. The media does its part to stay credentialed and in good standing by dutifully reporting the few stories that are allowed out. For that, we all suffer, as the players on the field becomes automatons of the schemes they play in, defined only by statistics, blown plays you can remember them missing, and great plays you can remember them making. Outside of pre-approved stories, who they actually are tends to get lost in the shuffle.
It is no accident that FOX "employs" Cleatus, the gigantic football-playing robot. He embodies the average football player.
I am a Texans fan. When Derek Newton got hurt, I did not malign what a tough break it was for him, because I don’t know anything about him. I looked at his play, looked at the fact that replacement right tackle Ryan Harris has been more-or-less acceptable when healthy, and shrugged my shoulders. Newton could be a father of three or a single guy who goes clubbing every night –- and I could turn this into a whole segment loosely based on the song "Shaniqua" -– but I don’t really know anything about that. He’s a football-playing dude to me, and once he was gone, another football-playing dude took his place.
I’m not trying to imply that what happened to Belcher was something that could have been prevented, or that what caused him to do the things that he did was something that could have been seen coming. I just find myself wondering what could have been done. What could have been known if he was born into a different culture?
Because now that he has gone and done this terrible act, I feel completely numb about my role as an analyst. There are depths of the NFL world that are beyond our reach; things we never will know. A person who was extinguished and lived in a bubble that actively sought to keep people from sharing things. A person who didn’t seek (enough) help for the demons that were circling round his brain. Reasons that may not ever be known.
It’s a real shame.
I broke down some tape of Jovan Belcher before I wrote about him for the last time as a living person. Nothing stood out to me. He seemed like a decent, solid, linebacker without any defining traits.
Now he has one, and I wish he was still relatively anonymous.
40 comments, Last at 05 Dec 2012, 1:18am by Paul R
Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.