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Dec
09
2012

Witnessing Death: the Jovan Belcher Story

Tom Schreier saw somebody die the day after Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide.

On Saturday, December 1st I saw a man die.

It wasn’t Jovan Belcher, of course. It was 33-year-old Timothy Arthur Martin, according to KVSC News. He was crossing the street outside of a cross walk just before 2:00 am* when he was hit by a Tuxedo Taxi Cab driven by 22-year-old Dylan Joseph Gnoinsky.

*Yes, technically this happened on Sunday, but it’s Saturday night in my mind.

Martin was hit in the leg and fell violently backwards, smacking his head hard enough on the road to cause significant trauma.

I did not see the incident happen. At the time he was hit, I was leaving MC’s Dugout, a local bar, about to head to my friend Riley’s house for the night. I had driven an hour west of the Twin Cities to celebrate Riley’s girlfriend Melissa’s birthday. My friend Tony and I were going to sleep at Riley’s place while he and Melissa shared a hotel room in downtown St. Cloud with a couple friends.

The mood was jovial as we left the bar. I had made a couple inappropriate jokes and Tony and Riley were playfully hitting me as I left the bar, eventually driving me to the ground. As I got up, I realized there was a crowd outside the bar, but that is not out of the ordinary at 2:00 am on a Saturday night.

As I was wading through the crowd, trying to find a gap I could dart through in order to make the 15-minute or so walk home, I

This is the only image I could find from that night.

turned and saw Martin’s body. He was killed outside of the Press Bar, a local hotspot, in an area that has many bars in close proximity. His shin had a staple-shaped indent in it. The part of his leg that had been run over lay flat on the road. There was a pool of blood surrounding his body that slowly inched toward the crowd.

The scene was disturbing, of course, but the reaction from the people is what haunted me in that moment. How could they all just stand around and stare? I hate it when people do that. I felt that many people in the crowd were amused. After all, it looked like a scene from an action movie or a video game. The violent nature of those products is what sells Terminator, Die Hard and Call of Duty to their audiences.

But this is real.

Martin is somebody’s son, somebody’s friend and perhaps somebody’s father. He did not go to work on Monday. He will not celebrate the holiday season. He will never see 2013.

I moved away from the scene as hastily as I could. I didn’t want to be a part of that crowd. I didn’t want to be a gawker, making a spectacle out of somebody’s last minutes on earth. And I needed time to reflect.

My friends and I sat in the hotel room for half-an-hour before I left for Riley’s apartment. There was idle chatter for a couple minutes and then silence. I just stared at my legs.

We got back to the apartment at 3:30 am. Exhausted, I passed out right away. In the morning Tony said he had trouble sleeping.

The walk home had been comforting for me. Tony and I discussed the importance of using every day to work toward an ultimate goal, making the most of the time we have with friends and family and the inevitability of death.

It also helped that I got to see my cousin’s hockey game, watch my sister play cello in a school concert and write an article on Sunday.

Sports, in general, have a pacifying effect for me. They allow me to forget the things that are bothering me and just focus on the competition. Furthermore, I got to spend time with my uncle and his three children that day.

Music also allows me to relax. It is something I use while reading, studying and driving to help me focus. It is also something that can be experienced with friends and family.

Finally, with every piece I write I feel that I am moving closer and closer to a career, a good life and hopefully a position that I can make an impact on somebody’s life. I hope that by sharing other people’s stories, I can highlight both positive and negative aspects of humanity and by sharing my own story I can help pave a way for writers that come after me in an industry that lacks direction right now.

***

Belcher with girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and daughter Zoey.

Here are the major differences between the death I witnessed and the death of Jovan Belcher, which was witnessed by Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, head coach Romeo Crennel and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs:

  1. The death I saw was not a suicide.
  2. Martin did not murder anyone.
  3. I did not know Martin.

This makes a big difference.

First of all, Martin did not take his own life.

Secondly, an innocent man died on the street that day.

And finally, my friends and I got over Martin’s death quicker than, say, the hysterical woman that was restrained by the police and, of course, his friends and family. We did not know him and therefore he did not leave a void in our lives.

Still, the death we saw was horrifying.

Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock wrote a thoughtful column arguing that the Chiefs should not play the Carolina Panthers the following Sunday. The teams did play, insisting that it would help them cope with the loss. “We wanted to play because we’re football players,” linebacker Derrick Johnson told The Sporting News, a friend of Belcher’s. “We love the game.”

The author of the Sporting News article, Steve Greenberg, argued that the temporary release might not be a good thing, as football players are trained to block out the pain, “Play now,” he writes “and deal with the rest later.”

At the same time, a temporary reprieve helps clear a person’s head. While I do not wish to speculate about the many things the players have to think about right now, there are a couple major fallouts that have been covered by the media:

  1. The NFL’s domestic violence issue coupled with the fact that the game focused on the grieving over the murderer, rather than the victim.
  2. A debate over gun control.
  3. The revelation that the Belcher was a hard-working man that made the team as an undrafted player out of the University of Maine, where he had majored in child development and family relations and was a member of a campus group Male Athletes Against Violence.
  4. And that a friend told Deadspin that Belcher “was dazed and was suffering from short-term memory loss,” potentially linking concussions to his death.

The game has already been played and it would take two separate columns to do justice to the issues of domestic violence and gun control.

What I would like to drive home are the latter two points, that something like this could happen to anybody and the potential link between brain injury and the suicide.

***

As I mentioned earlier in the column, I crossed the street multiple times on my way back to Riley’s apartment. The streets were not busy on the night Martin died. Although he apparently was motioning toward the taxi at the time of the incident, it is not uncommon for people to walk across the street without using a crosswalk in downtown St. Cloud. The bars are not far from one another and people often spend the night at multiple different locations.

Looking at the death on a larger scale, unexpected deaths happen frequently. We cannot live our lives worried about freak

Belcher as a member of the University of Maine football team.

accidents.

Furthermore, anybody can is capable of being a murderer. Belcher was a hard-working, undrafted player that had focused on child development in college and joined an anti-violence group. He was a firearm aficionado, but had no prior run-ins with the law. He is described as having “snapped,” implying that the murder was not premeditated.

Of course, many of us do not own eight guns or play a violent sport that has been said to cause brain trauma. My point is that it is unwise to think that just because somebody has many good qualities—a strong work ethic, interest in child development, et cetera—that they are incapable of murdering somebody.

What we need to do, however, is look at the cause of death and take necessary precautions to prevent it if possible. There are people that argue that brain trauma should not be culpable for Belcher’s murder-suicide, and they may be right. The suicides of players like Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling and Junior Seau—three players that shot themselves in the heart to preserve their brains—suggests that multiple concussions sustained on the football field result in depression, and ultimately suicide, off of it.

If more incidences of tragedy, like the Belcher story, occur to people playing professional football, the sport itself will take a long fall from its place atop the sports world right now. Boxing once held a prominent place in the sports hierarchy, but has since fallen from grace. Perhaps football’s violent nature, the element that draws large crowds to the sport, will be its undoing.

In my mind, the ultimate purpose of a sport from a fan’s perspective is it should have a pacifying affect. It should allow them to relax and forget all of life’s problems. If more stories similar Belcher’s surface and we learn that the football itself has an existential problem, as some have suggested, and the very nature of the game causes its participants to die, that will be the end of America’s most beloved sport.

In the end, there is nothing pacifying about watching a young person die.

Tom Schreier writes for TheFanManifesto. He can followed on Twitter at @tschreier3. Email him at tschreier3@gmail.com.

The entire FanMan team can be followed on Twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or liked on Facebook by clicking here.

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