Exhumation of Belcher's Body More Publicity Stunt than Research

Whoever said “success has many parents but failure’s an orphan” had never heard of Jovan Belcher.

Long before ghoulish doctors convinced the murderer’s family to exhume his corpse to search for signs of the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), sports pundits didn’t lack for theories on what caused the Kansas City Chief to kill the mother of his daughter and then himself.

Columnist Jason Whitlock immediately blamed the tragedy on the Second Amendment, a notion controversially seconded by Bob Costas on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. USA Today pointed to the linebacker’s double-the-legal-limit blood-alcohol content upon his death. Deadspin highlighted the possible role of pain medication; a friend of Belcher told the publication that the disgraced player felt victimized by his victim through the gold-digger phenomenon. A recent Bleacher Report article explored the pressures of an undrafted player maintaining a starting spot and the depressing feeling that goes along with playing for one of the worst teams in the National Football League.

Before concussions killed Kasandra Perkins, the gun culture, booze, pain pills, gold digging, and the cellar-dwelling Chiefs did.

Belcher, the linebacker who murdered his girlfriend in front of his mother before taking his own life at the Chiefs team facility on December 1, 2012, made national news again this weekend with the exhumation of his body to examine his brain for CTE. But the doctors performing the controversial, headline-grabbing autopsy won’t reveal their identities, Breitbart Sports has learned. 

Given that Belcher shot himself at point-blank range through the head, and that his damaged brain has been decomposing in the ground for more than a year, it’s unclear what scientists will learn through the belated postmortem. One positive that two brain researchers have already found through the mere announcement of the autopsy and exhumation is publicity. 

Drs. Julian Bailes and Bennet Omalu, two of the businessmen-scientists behind last month’s discredited boasts that a commercial product (that we now know they launched) had diagnosed Tony Dorsett and other very living athletes with CTE, insist that they can trace CTE in the long rotting dead. Omalu, for instance, told reporter Sam Mellinger that he“would bet one month’s salary that (Belcher) had CTE.” Elsewhere in the piece, Mellinger characterizes both doctors as positively assessing the scientific importance of the controversial autopsy. The celebrity scientists’ quotes appear throughout the original Kansas City Star story, and in scores of copycat articles published elsewhere, prompting speculation that their group will examine the brain. For instance, one neuropathologist contacted for this article simply assumed Omalu would be autopsying what remains of Belcher’s brain. 

While some have wondered whether the condition of the organ would make the exhumation a fool’s errand, several CTE researchers contacted by Breitbart Sports believe that Belcher’s brain may be preserved enough to study.

“If the body has been embalmed and this would involve the brain,” explains Dr. Lili Naz-Hazrati of the University of Toronto, then “the latter will be relatively well preserved.” An American brain researcher quipped about the Boston University group, whose rate of finding CTE in player brains hasn’t been replicated elsewhere, that “if the brain is sent to Boston, CTE will be identified regardless of what shape it is in.” “I assume the body was embalmed,” Charles Tator, a member of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, told Breitbart Sports. “Formaldehyde is the ingredient in MOST embalming fluids, and it does preserve the brain remarkably well, in MOST situations. So, an experienced neuropathologist like Bennett Omalu MAY be able to learn something from examining this brain, even a year later.”

So, if gleaning information from Belcher’s brain isn’t as far-fetched as it may appear to the layman, why the secrecy?

When word got out that Omalu would be examining Junior Seau’s brain last year, observers concerned about his ethics contacted the Seau family, which stopped him at the morgue’s office from leaving with the brain that had already left the decedent’s body. “We don't have any Canadian competitors for our group, yet,” explains CTE researcher Dr. Charles Tator, “but there are frequent incursions from the south! Bereaved families and those still alive but suffering are being recruited by aggressive folks from your country. So, if we experience the heat of battle in the frigid north, it must be very hot down south in the USA. I suppose that accounts for the secrecy in this case."

How long before the excavation of the tomb of Jim Thorpe commences?

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013).


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