On Saturday, a rich 25-year-old man, Jovan Belcher, murdered his 22-year-old girlfriend, the mother of his child. First, columnist Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports suggested that this “25-year-old kid” wasn’t responsible for his actions – it was the “gun culture” that was to blame. Then, Bob Costas of NBC repeats this idiotic notion, even though the 6’2″, 228 lb. linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs could easily have murdered his girlfriend with a knife.
Now CNN is getting in on the act. Leading their website this afternoon is an op-ed from Kevin Powell, former Democratic Congressional candidate in New York, and cast member on MTV’s original season of “The Real World.” Powell’s contention: it’s America’s culture of manliness that led Belcher to blow away his girlfriend and then turn the gun on himself. That culture of manliness includes men hiding their emotion, machoness, and homophobia. Seriously.
Since the killing and suicide are so fresh, so recent, we do not really know what might have driven Belcher to such extreme and horrific actions.
But the knee-jerk reactions have been rampant on the social networks. “Coward” is a term being used to describe Belcher. But that is too easy, far too simplistic, and name-calling never solves a problem.
Belcher was a man living in the supersized macho world of football, a world in which many of us American males reside, be it football or not. Too many of us have been taught manhood in a way that is not healthy. Be tough, men do not cry, man up — these are the things I’ve heard my entire life, and I now cringe when I hear this relayed to boys or younger men by teachers, coaches, fathers, mentors and leaders.
Or we use derogatory and sexist or homophobic words to describe men or boys who do not meet the “normal” of what a male is supposed to be. Some of these male authority figures mean well, or are simply repeating what they were socialized to be or to do, and do not realize that they are unwittingly teaching that manhood has little room to express hurt, disappointment and sorrow.
Somehow, it is doubtful that Belcher decided to put a bullet through his girlfriend’s brain because of homophobia. It is also doubtful that Belcher, who grew up in a home with a single mother, had too much influence from “male authority figures.”
That is the problem for so many of us. We do not talk about much of anything, except sports, women and sex. Everything else is routinely ignored. Or repressed. Until we explode.
Belcher had problems. But to express that it is society’s fault – the most feminized society in the history of civilization – that Belcher couldn’t express his feelings, is moronic.
For the past several years, I have privately advised and counseled several professional and amateur athletes, and entertainers, all men, all grappling with very warped definitions of manhood. The recurring theme over and over is fear of expressing themselves fully, fear of letting others down, fear of not being the tough and rugged men they were told they had to be. And on the inside so many of them are damaged as a result. The very definition of manhood they’ve embraced is more an emotional prison than anything else.
This is probably why the one scene that is locked in for me is of Belcher thanking his coach and general manager for what they did for him. Then walking away and shooting himself in the head.
We must struggle, harder than ever, as men, as boys, as a nation, to reach the point where a heart-to-heart conversation is the first and only option, not a gun, not gun violence. The lives of Jovan Belcher and Kasandra Perkins will have been in vain completely if we do not go deeper within ourselves to teach and show our sons, our husbands, our boyfriends, our fathers, our men and boys, that there is another way.
What is this other way? Less male role models? Belcher had none. Less manliness? Belcher wasn’t manly – he never married his girlfriend and clearly didn’t care enough about his child not to murder her mother. Less traditional values? Belcher didn’t do this because he was gay, and put upon by the traditional values establishment. He did this because he had no traditional values.
If we are going to blame society for Belcher, let’s look at some real societal problems: single motherhood, tolerance for antisocial behavior, lack of behavioral standards, multicultural acceptance of sexism. But the media is intent on blaming conservative ideals, from gun rights to traditional manliness, for what is very clearly a breach with any conservative ideals whatsoever.